Kobe Bryant again has the weight of Lakers nation on his shoulders. However, this time he can’t score or simply use his ferocious and unparalleled drive to satisfy the task at hand.
Bryant’s lasting legacy partially hinges on him being the opposite of the guy he’s been his entire career in many respects. While this might sound borderline blasphemous to most Bryant fans, it’s the brutal truth.
Bryant isn’t the same player anymore, nor was he last year when Byron Scott inexplicably allowed him to play 34.5 minutes per game and hoist 20 shots each night. The truth is, the Lakers haven’t needed Bryant to be the on-court player that he’s been in his legendary career for two full seasons.
The challenge at hand is difficult for Bryant because it has equally as much to do with his locker room presence and willingness to mentor the future of the franchise as it does his begrudging acceptance of a lesser role as a player.
After having tens of thousands of interactions with both fans and haters of Bryant alike over the past two seasons, I can definitively state that not only do the Lakers need him to be a mentor and dramatically change his in-game approach: his legacy requires it.
So much of the younger generation thinks of Bryant as a selfish player that has hung on too long, and a good chunk of them view him as an inefficient chucker that no one wants to play with. These beliefs often do, and will continue, to overshadow a legendary career and legacy if he chooses to cement those perceptions by not stepping aside as a player and stepping up as a mentor to these young studs in 2015-2016.
The Princeton offense isn’t going to work. It’s likely going to be an ugly season. That said, this is a season for growth — not winning — which is hard for most Lakers fans to digest. Regardless, Bryant must be the key factor in driving this franchise into a new era.
Yes, we all know about the infamous press conference where the Lakers new additions were silent about hearing from Kobe. While this is largely a non-story in many respects, anything that serves to cement the aforementioned negative connotations associated with Bryant over the past few years must be avoided this season.
D’Angelo Rusell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle all can, and should, be core pieces for this Lakers team for many years. There are only a handful of players active on the planet that possess the type of basketball intelligence, fundamentals, leadership and intangibles that Bryant has. These kids need and crave that knowledge, and in one fell swoop, Bryant can choose to stunt the development of each by not providing it.
In order to walk out the way the Lakers, and almost equally importantly to his fans, his legacy requires, Bryant will have to constantly battle himself internally this season. If he’s able to do this, swallow some pride, temper his emotions a bit, and shift his focus to mentoring this young back court — everyone wins.
Let’s hope that Kobe, the champion, realizes this.
Will Reeve is a contributing writer to Lakers Outsiders, you can follow him on Twitter @WillReeveJr or connect with him on Facebook here.