THE SAD SACK BALLAD THAT IS KOBE’S LAST STAND

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You’ll appreciate this.

All last week, I spent some time thinking about the perception of this Laker team and how most fans or media members were gonna get it wrong. From day one, when they started 1-4 and fired Mike Brown, it’s been explained as a team with all the talent in the world on paper and no chemistry suffering for their sins. You know, proof positive that the game of basketball is about teamwork and functioning as a unit and all that shit.

Not to say that isn’t true in the general sense, but my feeling has been that as the season progressed, the actual story of this team, the one that would be told by the smarter observers or better yet, by the numbers, was something different. Those that follow it closely would tell you Dwight Howard came in off of major surgery and pretty much never played up to the standards of the old Dwight Howard. They’d tell you that Steve Nash suffered a freak leg break in the second game of the season and was sidelined for 24 games. Then they’d tell you that for half of the time Nash was out, Pau Gasol was sidelined as well, and that Pau missed more games (33) than in any of his 12 NBA seasons. If they really followed this team, they’d remember that Jordan Hill and Steve Blake missed most of the season, that Metta had knee surgery late in the year (and miraculously returned for the end of the season) and that generally speaking, pretty much everything that could wrong did, at least injury-wise.

To me, this was as much a part of the story as anything else that had happened. Even with all of these health-related maladies, the Lakers still managed to win more than they lost, and if not for all the injuries, I found it a reasonable assumption that they could have easily won 50 games, if not more. Had that been the case, there would have been a whole lot less talk of what underachievers they had been, even if it would still be reasonable to have expected more.

And then Friday night happened.

Any hope that the Lakers could sneak into the playoffs and make something crazy happen went away when Kobe Bryant, seemingly the most durable superstar of this or any other basketball era, snapped his Achilles Tendon after a season spent trying to drag his listless, often hopeless teammates across the finish line. Fact is, 34 year old, 17 year NBA veteran Kobe Bryant was playing FORTY SIX MINUTES A GAME in April, and he was doing so merely in pursuit of a playoff spot, any playoff spot. In a career of incredibly manic, almost psychotic dedication and determination, this was literally and figuratively the breaking point.

Screw blaming anyone for what happened, by the way. I’ve already heard Kobe’s trainer say the heavy minutes have nothing to do with this injury, and that’s good enough for me. Not that it matters one bit, in the “big picture” sense. Fact is, the Lakers season is officially dead in the water and Kobe’s career might be dead as well.

Hey, forgive me for being all dramatic, but when did you ever think you’d see Kobe Bryant as the picture of vulnerability? When did you ever imagine this?

Really, there isn’t a whole lot more to say about it rather than some tired platitude about Father Time being undefeated or whatever.

Maybe this is the only way out for hopelessly driven, the compulsively competitive, the obsessively focused man that Bryant is? Yeah, we’ve heard him say for years that he would be willing to walk away when he could no longer dominate but did we ever really believe him? After all, what does a man who spent his whole life more or less killing himself to be the very best basketball player on earth retire to? Coaching Little League? Maybe the cruel fate of athletic mortality was the only thing that would send him off into the sunset?

Probably not, though.

This is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about, which means he’s already at work constructing a “they say I can’t do it!” mentality, whether real or imagined. Retiring now would mean admitting he’d lost, and if ever there was a man who you have to beat decisively enough that he has no doubts, Kobe is that man. Most likely, he’ll have to go through the entire rehab process and emerge a sub-standard, sub-Kobe player in order for him to accept his mortality for what it is. As of now, the recovery time is 6-9 months. Yeah, he’ll be 35 by then, but he’ll also rehab the fuck out of some rehab, the way only Kobe could do, which means I’ll take the under on that 6-9 month prediction.

Question is, what will he be coming back to?

Little Jimmy Buss, making it up as he goes.

For now, it’s gotta be anyone’s guess. Only thing we know for sure is that Jimmy Buss has hitched his wagon to Dwight Howard, which means he’ll do whatever it takes to keep him in town. After that, who the fuck knows? They’ve got everyone but Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison under contract for next season but are facing the prospect of an ungodly payroll the likes of which the NBA has never seen. Thanks to the new Luxury Tax that kicks in starting next season, they’d be on the hook for over EIGHTY MILLION DOLLARS in tax alone, and for a roster that was barely playoff-caliber this year and will now feature Kobe coming off major surgery at 35. Remember that “Amnesty Kobe” remark that got Mark Cuban in trouble a few months ago? Well, it makes alot more financial sense now, even if the chances that the Lakers would actually pull the trigger on it are slim-to-none.

 The lack of foresight, intelligence or anything resembling a fucking clue has put this franchise in a totally untenable situation, and the only way out of it is to do something really stupid or desperate. To use the amnesty clause on Kobe or Gasol would save the team between 50 and 60 million dollars in tax payment, even if it would be an unmitigated PR disaster. Otherwise, they are stuck spending 180 million dollars on a 2013-14 team that won’t be a serious contender unless they have a magical reversal of fortune on the health stuff. Whereas it would have made sense to trade Gasol a few years ago for future consideration, nothing they could get for him now, at 33 years old and coming off two bad seasons, would be anymore valuable than just letting him play the final year of his contract out here.
Ah, but fuck all the guessing games now. No point. The only thing we know for sure as of right now is that Kobe’s season is kaput, as are the Lakers’ hopes of making anything happen in this years’ playoffs. Everything else beyond that is a mystery that won’t be solved anytime soon unless Kobe suddenly retires, and I won’t go betting on that shit. For now, we’re left to wait for answers tot he bigger questions regarding the future of the Lakers in general, and Kobe in particular.
For now, all I’m left with is a sad feeling. Feels like the end.
-JH
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