One Thing at a Time
Anyone who watched last night's debacle knows that this Lakers team, as presently constituted, is never going to do anything more than barely make the playoffs and then lose in the first round. Kobe has his own limitations as a player (which, somewhat surprisingly given his obvious intelligence, are mental and not related to talent or skill), but the real problem is the personnel. Though he may not admit it, Kobe must take the blame for that, as well. Two years ago, Chucky Atkins infamously told a reporter that "Kobe is the GM," a proposition that was roundly denied at the time, but was acknowledged by those in the know to be largely true. Shortly thereafter, Atkins was traded to the Wizards. Hmmmm.....
Speaking of the Wizards, the question is whether Kobe, like his idol Michael Jordan, is a bad evaluator of talent (interesting that they both ended up with Kwame Brown) or whether there is something else going on. I will argue the latter.
Kobe's early awkward years in the NBA have now become firmly part of his legend. It's hard to remember now that when he was drafted, there was only one straight-from-high school player in the league. Kobe ended up on a Lakers squad that had a young backcourt in Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones, but even they were a good six years older than him. He arrived in LA already a loner, having grown up first as an African-American in Italy and then as a basketball prodigy in suburban Philly. It's no wonder that Kobe didn't hang out much with his teammates. Who among them could have understood him, and how could he have understood them?
Kobe doesn't know the same struggle most NBA players know, which isn't to say he hasn't struggled, but the struggles of growing up a stranger in a strange land with a professional ballplayer for a father aren't typical for most people in the League or anywhere else, for that matter. Yet, they do seem strangely common among Kobe's teammates. Ronny Turiaf, Sasha Vujacic, and Vladimir Radmanovic are all foreigners, and Brian Cook and Luke Walton have fathers who played in the NBA. Additionally, Kobe seems most comfortable around teammates who share his middle class background and nerdy interests, guys he can watch 300 and discuss Harry Potter with.
The problem, of course, is that it's unlikely that a team made up of players that Kobe feels comfortable around can ever seriously contend for a championship. I mean, how many NBA champions have been comprised of mostly middle class kids, foreigners, and sons of former professional basketball players? Actually.......wait a minute, is there any way Kobe can get traded to the Spurs?