The Grammys are Sunday, meaning the Lakers by definition have completed the majority of their first major road trip. The All-Star team has been announced. Kobe Bryant added yet another notch to a very heavily decorated belt. Felt like as good a reason as any to get in the studio and chop things up. There entire show can be heard by clicking on the box below, and there's a breakdown below for those who like to skip around.
- (2:00): With four of the six Grammy roadie games in the books (the show was recorded before the Knicks loss), Brian and I ponder whether we've learned anything about the Lakers. In my opinion, not really. We saw signs of them being capable of quality play on the road, but we've also seen them disappoint in customary fashion this season. And the problems transparent before leaving L.A. -- not enough support beyond the Big Three, not enough play-makers along the perimeter -- remain the same.
- (6:40): Even with these issues still lingering, are they now in position to perhaps win the Pacific Division? The Clippers are the primary competition, but with Chauncey Billups sidelined for the season, the Staples Center upstarts may encounter slippage. Enough for the Lakers to overtake them? We'll see.
- (8:06): Did the coaches err by not naming Pau Gasol an All-Star? In our opinions, no. While we agree Dirk Nowitzki's inclusion robbed a more deserving candidate, the snubbed player wasn't necessarily El Spaniard. Paul Millsap, Danilo Gallinari, Monta Ellis and Rudy Gay all deserve a spot before him, in my opinion. While a nod certainly wouldn't be outlandish, and the criticism lobbed at Pau this season has been somewhat over the top, I think events shook out in proper fashion.
- (14:50): Brian waxes nostalgic about his LSAT scores and a constitutional law book that used to put him sleep.
- (19:10): Kobe's done a lot of media since passing Shaquille O'Neal on the all-time scoring list, reminiscing about the past and speculating about what lies ahead. Naturally, a sixth ring weighs heavily on Bryant's mind. The odds of another championship while this current roster don't feel high, but Kobe hasn't lost sight of the front office's attempt to upgrade with Chris Paul. As long as Mitch Kupchak and the Busses appear to be working in earnest, Kobe sounds satisfied. And even if he weren't, packing up the tents doesn't sound like Plan B. While speaking with Stephen A. Smith, Bryant dismissed the notion of chasing a ring with another franchise. As far as he's concerned, he'll either win #6 with the Lakers, or he won't win it at all.
With all this mind, Brian and I revisited a recurring discussion from podcasts or the radio about when the time comes to negotiate Bryant's next contract. Brian's expressed concerns about factors like dollars and the franchise's direction clashing with Kobe's wants, which could result in him joining another team. However, I'm not convinced Kobe will actually play beyond this contract. Not because he won't be good enough at 36, but because the terms may not be exactly what he wants.
Averaging 18-20 a night is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but like The Mamba told SAS, "hell no" he won't be hanging around to do that. (Depending on how the franchise was transitioning, that may be what's asked of him, regardless of his capabilities.) And contrary to what some cynics believe, I don't think he'll hang around just to chase records, either. He's even dropped hints about the end of the line coming when he deems it time, not everyone else. Unless the Lakers remain good enough to reasonably compete for a championship with a role to his liking (in which case, I doubt dollars will be an issue), I wouldn't be shocked if Kobe hung up the sneaks in 2014.
Kobe truly strikes me as the rare superstar who'd exit the game a year too early rather than too late. And were that the case, I'd truly respect that decision. There are few things in sports worse than seeing an elite athlete hang around the game too long. Some can't recognize the erosion of skills. Others simply can't let go of the game, then become journeymen bouncing from franchise to franchise. Kobe is nothing if not self-aware and cognizant of how legacies are perceived, which is why I believe he'd avoid either fate.
Few are the iconic athletes. Even fewer are those with the opportunity to become icons while playing for just one team. That's special. Aesthetically speaking, I strongly believe 18 years and five rings with the Lakers bests 20-ish years and six rings with two (or more) franchises. That's just my opinion, and it's certainly not my place to tell Bryant what to do with his career. But I wouldn't be shocked if he agreed. Kobe has always been an athlete who does things his way, a "for better or worse" proposition his entire career. In this particular case, that stubbornness of vision would be a major strength.