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Kobe Bryant Needs to Embrace Smaller Role Next Season

We’ve come to the embrace a new school of thought. It’s the one that says this is LeBron James’s world and we just happen to live in it. He’s the greatest player on the planet and that was on full display in the NBA Finals. But there’s this other guy in downtown Los Angeles who isn’t ready to ride off into the sunset just yet, and his name is Kobe Bryant.

After three consecutive season-ending injuries, Bryant is looking to return the glory and glamour back to the streets of Hollywood. He’s listened to the pundits refer to him in the past tense alluding to his career being all but over. And you can bet your bottom dollar he hears the noise of the Clippers’ footsteps in town. But the question is whether his ears are in good enough shape to hear his body talking to him.

With 19 long, arduous NBA seasons under his belt and a host of injuries ranging from miniscule to significant, the time has come for Bryant to alter his attack going forward. The franchise has incrementally gone downhill since they last hung a banner. The clock has struck midnight, and changes in philosophy should be imminent.

We know just what Bryant is capable of. For his career, he’s averaged 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 45 percent from the field and 83 percent from the charity stripe.

Following an Achilles tear and a fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee, he returned last season and averaged 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists before succumbing to yet another injury. This time it was his shoulder.

While he was able to show the league he’s still capable of being a player to be reckoned with, Bryant also showed major deficiencies in some notable areas. For starters, he turned the ball over nearly four times per game, often stymieing the Lakers’ offense. These numbers may be inflated by virtue of him being their primary facilitator, but it’s still a cause for concern.

Exemplary teams put the importance of ball movement and playing with pace on full display. Sharing the basketball is key. So this behooves us to look at Bryant’s 20.4 shot attempts per game, which was second in the entire NBA, while shooting a woeful 37 percent from the field. These numbers aren’t exactly conducive to that desired fluid offense.

Kobe’s also seen a huge decline on the other side of the ball. Bryant has been a member of the All-NBA Defensive Teams 12 times in his career, which is a direct testament to how gifted he’s been on that end, although that’s often been overshadowed by his offensive contributions. However, there’s been an APB out for him on defense these past couple years.

In the 2013-14 season, Bryant had a defensive rating of 111, per Basketball-Reference.com. Last year, that number stood at 110 to go along with a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of -3.06 , which ranked 89th among 98 shooting guards. These stats are eye popping, but for all the wrong reasons.

So how does he fix this? The easy answer: Shoot less, take higher percentage shots and rekindle that affinity for defense that existed once upon a time.

But now it seems like it’s much deeper than that. With the barrage of young talent on the team, Bryant now has to take on a different role. It’s incumbent upon him to become a leader on and off the court.

In my estimation, the offense should no longer run through him. This isn’t an indictment on Bryant, but more of the welcoming of a new era of basketball. We’re witnessing a trend in the league — high-octane, run-and-gun offenses predicated on three-point shooting.

Head coach Byron Scott has to find a way to decrease Bryant’s quarterback-like role on offense, while still keeping him involved. With the addition of D’Angelo Russell and the emergence of Jordan Clarkson, the Lakers finally have respectable floor generals.

Teams just aren’t experiencing as much success with isolation ball anymore. Those days are over. You need a good system in place that utilizes all the talent on your roster, not just that of one player. Bryant shooting over 20 times a game to the tune of 37 percent isn’t doing the job, and it doesn’t bring out the best qualities of everyone on the team.

Under no circumstance should Bryant play 34.5 minutes per game, as he did last season. At 36 years of age and three significant injuries later, that’s simply too much. He’s played a total of 46, 774 minutes in his career, and all that mileage is catching up to him. Father Time will always remain undefeated.

It’s been sad to see Kobe’s career come to a close like it has. His relentless chase for six rings will more than likely see him fall short. The Lakers have been awful and there doesn’t seem to be any quick route to relevancy in sight, even with the young talent in place. But whether they stink or not next season shouldn’t dictate how Bryant plays. The main objective going into the year will be to develop young players and make L.A. an attractive destination again for free agents.

With Bryant’s contract coming off the books, can the Lakers find a way to do anything right? This is something they’ve been allergic to over the last few years. No one wants to go play with a stubborn 36-year old Kobe Bryant, who shoots a high number of ill-advised shots. But they might be willing to come play alongside an individual who’s more understanding of playing team ball. Teamwork still makes the dream work. And another thing…defense does too.

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