If you can physically tolerate watching Kobe Bryant play basketball this season, if you can somehow manage to watch despite the wincing at all the missed shots and the acid reflux they induce, you'll realize that this bottoming out actually makes things easier for Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
At this rate -- specifically, 15.2 points per game on 31.1 percent shooting from the field and 19.5 percent from three-point range -- Kobe should not feel compelled to come back for another season. More significantly, if he does want to return, the Lakers are now under no obligation to accommodate him.
If Kobe kept dropping 20 points a game and maintained confidence that he could keep imposing his will on the rest of the NBA, he could have put the Lakers in a difficult position. He could have forced the Lakers to either bring him back next season at a salary more in line with his career accomplishments than his current abilities or face the wrath of their fan base as he went off to finish his career in another uniform. Not now, not after the best Kobe could do against the Golden State Warriors was 1-for-14.
Even the most loyal Kobe-ites, the ones with several versions of both the No. 8 and No. 24 Laker jerseys, don't want to see this continue. If Kobe pressed the Lakers and they pushed back, not a single person could blame them.
Kobe's poor play liberates the Lakers. They'll be ready to move on to a new era without Kobe's high salary and high usage rate combining to reduce cap space and congest the offense.
It would have been easier for everyone involved if Kobe had transitioned to a secondary role, the way Tim Duncan has in San Antonio, or even agreed to provide advice and moral support from the bench, which has become Kevin Garnett's main purpose in his return to Minnesota.
But Kobe wasn't coded that way. Much like the Michael Jordan you saw giving his Hall of Fame speech was essentially unchanged from the Michael Jordan who had such a spectacular playing career, the Kobe Bryant you see going down in a blaze of missed jumpers is the same Kobe Bryant who's brought the Lakers five more banners since his arrival. What set him apart was that he was the best bad-shot maker in the history of the league. Now that he can no longer defy gravity, neither can his field goal percentage. But he doesn't know any other way to play. For Kobe, the challenge was never just to win, it was to win his way.
Winning isn't a possibility on most nights anymore, so don't overlook the impact that playing on a bad team has on him. It requires so much work for him to prepare and recover for each game these days that all that work must not seem worth it if it's only going to result in a loss.
Some people mistook his remarks that "I could've scored 80 [against the Warriors], it wouldn't have made a damn difference" and "I could be out there averaging 35 points a game [and] we'd be what, 3-11?" as him believing he still had those type of scoring outputs in him.
No, what he meant was that even if he could do those things, it wouldn't matter with this team. It wasn't Kobe being egotistical, it was him being pragmatic.
Kobe is descending on an elevator, not riding on a train. On a train, they announce when it's the end of the line. When an elevator gets to the lobby, the doors open and it's up to everyone in the car to figure out what comes next.