There’s a change happening in Los Angeles, one that could signify the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. The Los Angeles Lakers play the L.A. Clippers tonight in what could have a more significant meaning than simply a win or a loss.
The Clippers are the hottest, and arguably best team in basketball right now. Behind the play of all-star point guard Chris Paul, and airiness Blake Griffin and company, the Clippers are trying to a show the people of L.A. there’s a new sheriff in town, and he doesn’t wear purple and gold.
The Clippers have been getting the attention they well deserve, ending a team-record 17 game win streak last week, and at one point had the best record in the NBA, but have still been overshadowed by the very mediocre, yet somehow entertaining, Los Angeles Lakers.
Kobe Bryant, now in his 17th season in the NBA, has been straightforward when it comes to discussing the Lakers’ struggles this season. He hasn’t hesitated to point the finger at anyone and everyone, but I look to a deeper cause to answer the Lakers troubles.
Lets look at the man himself. Kobe Bryant, now an old man in the NBA at 34, is still statistically one of the best scorers in the league. Leading the league in scoring at 30.3 PPG, no one questions Kobe’s ability to put the ball in the net, but what exactly has that done for his team this season? Not even at .500, the Lakers new acquisitions we’re expecting to help Kobe win another NBA Championship and ride off into the sunset, and instead have watched as Bryant has single-handedly dismantled the team he has put on his shoulders for so long.
Coming into last offseason, the Lakers were worried they were losing the “flash” that has always made them such a compelling team to watch. So they went out and made the “big deals” to keep Kobe happy, and on paper put themselves right back in the mix with the top of the class in the NBA. Signing Steve Nash and trading for the best center in basketball, Dwight Howard, we all assumed the Lakers were putting their name at the top of the threshold. But unlike many who said the Lakers could compete and beat the best in the west, I was skeptical of what on paper looked like a team compelled to win a championship.
Watching the NBA Finals last year, I couldn’t help but think that the future of basketball was changing so quickly. Players like Kevin Durant and LeBron James are one of a kind, there’s no disputing that, but their style of play is something no one has ever seen before. They are superstars that not only have the skills that set themselves apart from the rest of the pack, but what defines their greatness is not how their amazing stats, but how much better they make everyone else around them. LeBron and Durant separate themselves because of how well they play around others. They can take over a game when they have to, but just as easily create things for their teammates. They understand when to push the reigns and when to facilitate; Kobe’s lost sight of that.
Basketball is different from every other sport in the aspect that having great players doesn’t immediately translate to success on the court. A perfect example is the Miami Heat. When the Heat signed James, Bosh, and Wade in 2010, we all thought they would never lose a game again. Turned out, their first season together was widely disappointing and at times it seemed like they had no continuity and understanding of how to play with each other. It just goes to show that putting the best players on the court together doesn’t mean they’ll win, at all. There’s only one ball; learning how to share it seems elementary but never ends up so.
Kobe, you’re one hell of a basketball player, but the Lakers’ problems are not ones that falls on the shoulders of Jerry Buss, Mike Brown, Dwight Howard, or Pau Gasol; you are just as guilty as anyone else that puts on the Laker uniform. Being a great basketball player means more than just taking over a game when no one else can, and putting up great numbers on the stat sheet. If Kobe still thinks he’s the best player in the game, he needs to realize that he is not the same player he once used to be; he must change his game. The longer Kobe believes he can do it all, the longer the Lakers were flirt with mediocrity.
Tonight’s game between the Lakers and Clippers could be the symbol of a drastic change in L.A., one no fan or writer has seen before. Could the Clippers actually be the best basketball team in L.A.? For the first time since the Clippers moved to Los Angeles, the answer will most likely be yes. Younger, more talented, and more primed to make a run for a championship, the Clippers have everything the Lakers once had, and now desperately need.
There’s no doubt in my mind Kobe Bryant still has game, we’ve seen it all season. But in that sense, he’s always had game. I have faith Kobe can turn him and his team around, but major questions will have to be addressed and answered. Maybe tonight, a game where the humiliation of the Lakers’ season could rise to a new level, could also be the game where Kobe and the Lakers’ turn their season around with a new attitude and understanding of each other and their goals.
But truthfully, if the Lakers’ want any chance at redeeming themselves and legitimately contending for another NBA championship, Kobe needs to look himself in the mirror and ask himself the toughest question of them all, “Kobe, you still got game?