Written by: Bryan Jolly
The Renegades. The Bench Mob. Kobe’s Angels. The Wild Bench. Whatever you want to call it, the Laker’s second unit is, without question, the best in the NBA. They’re getting quality minutes and putting up quality numbers. How the bench on a two-time defending championship team emerges as the strongest and deepest in the league may be the biggest surprise since Sasha Vujacic’s engagement to Maria Sharapova.
Not only is this Lakers bench productive, it’s productive in all the right places. 14 seasons under his belt, Kobe can’t be expected to carry the scoring load every night. Last year, Kobe had no help beyond Gasol and Odom. This year, the Shannon Brown show has been rolling since the rings were handed out. He’s playing like the sixth man of the year, averaging 11.8 PPG and shooting a blistering 51% from beyond the arc. Tired of being typecast as a dunker, Brown spent the offseason developing the perfect complement to his open court explosiveness: a jump shot.
If re-signing Shannon Brown was the most sagacious offseason move by the LA front office, the late-July phone call that Kobe made to Matt Barnes isn’t far behind. Barnes is the epitome of a love/hate guy: you hate him until he’s wearing your colors. I used to love his antics at UCLA, then quickly turned against him as he started battling the Lakers in Sacramento and Golden State. Now that he’s back in LA, nothing but love. No one outside of Kobe and Barnes knows how the conversation went for sure but I’d like to think it went something like this:
Kobe: Matt, it’s Kobe.
Barnes: Kobe? (Dramatic pause) … Kobe Bryant?
Kobe: Yeah, Kobe Bryant. Listen, Kupchak is about to offer you a contract. I know we’ve had our battles over the years but I want you to know, I respect you as a competitor and I want you on my team.
Barnes: Uh… Can I apologize for those comments I made about your wife in the ’09 Finals?
Kobe: Doesn’t matter. I just wanna win. I think you can help.