Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players to ever set foot on a basketball court. And save Michael Jordan, perhaps none are as proud. However, should Bryant sacrifice his pride and consider a bench role for the Los Angeles Lakers when he returns to the floor next season?
There are certainly reasons to argue against such a notion, not the least of which is that he “would never do it anyway.” But set that aside for the moment. Say, hypothetically, that he was willing to consider that an option. Would it be worthwhile?
There’s an argument to be made that for the Lakers’ benefit, his own benefit and that of fans across the NBA, it would be the best thing for Bryant to adopt a sixth man role next season.
Do it for the Lakers
If there was a moment from this season that illustrated how different the current Lakers and Bryant are, it was when Jimmy Kimmel showed him the celebration of the team’s overtime victory over the Celtics.
Obviously, a man who has five championship rings isn’t going to be all that enthused by a regular-season win with the rest of the season in such catastrophic disarray.
While I won’t say Bryant’s was the “wrong” reaction, it may not have been the “best” reaction, either. His teammates are the ones out there fighting, and if they want to be stupid celebrating it, let them, even if it’s stupid.
As of now, it’s hard to say who among them is going to be back next season, but some will be. It’s certain that unless he’s traded Nick Young will be. And if Bryant is going to want to have a positive impact on the next generation of Lakers, he’s going to have to not alienate them.
These are grown men, not children. They need a mentor, not a headmaster. We can toss about platitudes about how much they’re getting paid and how many rings Bryant has, but we’re still talking about human beings, here. And it’s hard to want to learn from someone that’s a jerk to you, point blank.
Bryant would go a long way towards extending the benefit of his unquestionable wisdom and experience by ingratiating himself to the next generation of players. He doesn’t “owe” them anything, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a bigger person.
In terms of that, a little bit of humility would go a long way. If Bryant really wants the Lakers to have a bright future, taking a seat on the bench to start the games sure would help. If Jordan could do it with the Wizards in spurts, Bryant can do it with the Lakers.
Do It for Himself
Another reason Bryant should consider this is that it’s actually in his own self-interest. What’s the one guy on a team that can take an endless number of shots and get rewarded for it? That’s right, the sixth man.
Per Basketball-Reference.com, in nine of the last 12 seasons, the award has gone to someone who scored at least 15 points per game while shooting below .500. And four times, the winner failed to even shoot 45.0 percent from the field. We could just as easily rename this the “Best Chucker off the Bench Award.”
And Bryant would be the perfect candidate for that. In fact, he might not even be as much of a “chucker” if he were coming off the bench and facing inferior competition. There’s a reason that teams look for that kind of guy.
Bench guys are bench guys for reasons, and Bryant’s vast array of moves and skills would have most second-team defenders swatting at air. Between that and his ability draw fouls, he might even be able to justify his high usage rate with a reasonably stable true shooting percentage.
And, for the sake of argument, say he were to thrive in the role. He could be the first player in history to win the MVP and the Sixth Man award. (Provided James Harden doesn’t do that, this year.)
For the Fans across the League
The final reason that Bryant should consider a self-demotion is this season stands a good chance of being his farewell tour. Bryant may be polarizing in many ways, but no one can argue his popularity.
Fans across the league would love to see him play one last time, and considering the spate of injuries he has endured the last three years, the chances of that go up if his minutes go down.
In the history of the league, no player 6’6” or shorter has attempted more field goals (25,087) or free throws. (9,730) Only Gary Payton, Jason Kidd and John Stockton have played more minutes. (46,774) Bryant should pass up Payton and Stockton in one more season.
You can make the argument that, pound for pound, no player in history has had more abuse delivered to his body than Bryant. So the idea of nurturing it along a bit isn’t a bad one.
If you’re old enough to remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s last season, it was memorable in the sense that it gave all the fans one last chance to say goodbye to one of the greatest to ever play. It would be amazing to see Bryant go out like that, and not with another season-ending injury after brutalizing his body again for half a season.
Even if he doesn’t want to do it for himself or the Lakers, Bryant should consider coming off the bench so the fans in every stadium could have that moment when he’s first announced into the game to thank him one last time for all the great basketball memories he has given to us over the years.