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Ted Green: Lakers play better team basketball without Kobe Bryant

February 11, 2010 | 12:36 pm
Pau Since no one else will say it, not even the basketball higher power himself, Phil Jackson, I'll say it for them:

The Lakers apparently play better team basketball without Kobe Bryant.

I know, it seems like the ultimate second guess, hindsight being 20-20, but I'll tell you why it isn't.

Writing this after the surprising, streak-busting win in Portland, that would have been purely impulsive. Writing it after they followed it with a resounding home win over the Spurs, that would have been reactionary. But writing it after three straight wins over playoff teams, two of those wins on the road, by margins of 15, 14 and 15 points, it’s now simply a reasoned response.

In other words, a funny thing happened to Bryant while sitting with his swollen ankle propped up in Gary Vitti's various training rooms.  

The Lakers superstar discovered that his guys are a whole lot better, and more cohesive and together and on the same page, than they are when he, Kobe, is dribbling out the clock, holding the ball and trying to beat three guys off the dribble while hoisting up 20 to 35 shots a game.

And let's face it, some of those shots, the 25-foot corkscrew fade-aways with the 24 winding down, they seem to be at least partially intended either for Kobe's own amusement, the game within the game where he tries to outdo even himself, entertain the crowd and TV guys, or enhance his rep as the craziest shot-maker in captivity. Or maybe it's that whole enchilada.

I say these last three games have been so revealing, they should serve as a full-on wake-up call to the great Bryant himself.

Your teammates sent you a message, Kobe, and it couldn't be any louder or more clear. Are you listening? Are you mature enough to learn from it, or is actually being Bryant the bigger priority?

I mean, even if you've got a full-on bromance going with 24, if you're, like me, the biggest Kobe fan in the whole wide world, ask yourself honestly: When this season have the Lakers played three prettier, more dominating games against quality opponents than these last three?

Answer: They haven't.

Just think: How good could they be if Kobe fit in with THEM instead of demanding that they fit in with HIM?

No, I'm not saying they're a better team without Kobe, certainly not over the long haul and definitely not in tough playoff series against, say, Denver and then Cleveland. And, no, I'm not suggesting they trade him for Dwyane Wade, who's got the same annoying penchant for I'm-the-Showitis as Kobe does.  

I'm saying that if Kobe is the keen student of the game he claims to be, he should at least be considering that some or all of the following conclusions might be valid:

1.  It's now up to him to figure out how HE can best intersperse his offense into this perfectly symmetrical Triangle they're playing, rather than the other way around.

2. The Lakers would be at their penultimate best if Kobe averaged 18 points a game instead of having that compulsive need to average 28.  Dispensing those 10 points among his teammates would mean, by definition, a better brand of team ball.  (And if you don't believe me, check the stats during the Magic Showtime era.)

3. Although it has been incredibly entertaining for years, the Black Mamba act, seen in a different context now, seems a bit more like Kevin McHale's old Black Hole. Throw the ball to Kobe and never see it again.

4. And why, in the last four minutes of every single close Laker game, must Kobe seemingly take 80% of the shots in crunch time? Or is it 90%? Is it written sacredly on a wall or tablet somewhere in ancient Egypt? Trust somebody else now and then, Kob, you might be pleasantly surprised. 

Like you were, say, these last five days?

Kobe, did you see Lamar's comment after he scored 25 in Utah? "I'm decent." How dripping with pathos was THAT remark? Lamar in effect saying: I know the press is fixated on Kobe, but me and the other Lakers, we aren't chopped liver, either.

Indeed, this is what Laker fans should want to see from Kobe when he rejoins the lineup after the All-Star game:

Don't just throw the ball into the post to appease Pau Gasol and (less frequently) Andrew Bynum; don't just throw the two Big Dogs a bone; initiate the offense through them, the way the team is doing now.  

What I would say to Kobe if I had his ear and trust is this: Dude, we already KNOW you're great. We KNOW you can get 40 almost whenever you want. Fifty or 60 even. But even if you stay around long enough to pass Kareem and score more than anyone ever, even if they build a statue for you next to Magic’s in front of Staples, that's STILL not you're legacy, how you're going to be judged by history.

You're going to be judged by championships, four of which you have already.

Five and you tie Magic.

Six, you tie Jordan and you're right in the conversation as the greatest player ever.

Seven, you might BE the conversation.

So stop Mamba'ing so much. Let the other guys work. Let them get their touches and points too. It'll preserve your body so you don't have to spend so much time in the training room.  

You'll have to pass the torch to LeBron James and it'll hurt for a minute or three, but I'm pretty sure letting the old Kobe go and reinventing a new, more efficient model is the best and fastest way to reaching the magic title number.

So here it is, finally, in a nutshell. You can ease off on being 24 now, and focus on that other, far more important number:


-- Ted Green

Green formerly covered the Lakers for the L.A. Times. He is currently Senior Sports Producer for KTLA Prime News.

Photo: Pau Gasol works his way past Utah's Andrei Kirilenko during the Lakers' 96-81 victory over the Jazz on Wednesday. Credit: Steve C. Wilson / Associated Press