NBA / Apr 27, 2010 / 6:30 pm

How Kobe And The Lakers Need To Readjust. Now.

I’m one of the biggest Kobe fans there are (along with 25 million other people). I’ve taken Kobe in the Kobe vs. LeBron debate every single time and yet, when I was finishing off the last drops of my Busch 40 the other night at the Village Pourhouse, I somehow knew that Kobe was going to blow it.

The Lakers began the fourth quarter of Game 3 up 75-74, but it was all downhill from there. Kobe hit a 15-footer with 10:17 left in the game, followed by miss after miss, bad shot after bad shot, and the Kobe who got used to scoring 40 because throwing an entry pass to the post meant the ball slipping through the fingers of Kwame Brown, returned. A flashback that makes every Lakers fan cringe. But every now and then this is the Kobe we get. It’s the one we got in a couple of games against the 2008 Celtics, and it’s the one we got in Game 3 and with a 3-0 series lead nearly put away. In Game 4 we got the same Kobe that gave up on his teammates to prove a point in the 2006 first-round loss against the Suns. After Game 4 he called it “managing the game,” but for someone whose won four rings by being one of the best scorers on the planet, it’s hard to call taking no shots in the first 15 minutes of a crucial game “management.”

The problem is, no one knows when Kobe is going to make the extra pass to give his team a better shot, or, now, whether we’ll get an insecure Kobe who will pass too much to prove that he’s needed. What’s become so frustrating and evident after Game 3 is not that Kobe plays like this the entire game, but that he does so only when he believes the game to be in the Lakers’ grasp. And when it’s in their grasp, he’s the fist that tries to clench it.

With 8:30 left to play in the first quarter of Game 3, the Lakers had a commanding 15-3 lead and Kobe was playing in the flow of the game – a notion that Phil Jackson bases his entire basketball philosophy on. Artest was finally off to a good start, Bynum was doing work in the post, and Fisher hit his first shot of many. Only then did Kobe take his first shot, and he sunk it.

But now we return to the fourth quarter, and as the L.A. Times‘ Bill Plaschke points out:

“On the first 13 possessions of the fourth quarter, Bryant was the last Laker to touch the ball nine times. Only one of those times was the outcome positive, a turnaround jumper early in the quarter. He missed seven jumpers, including two three-point attempts. He had one shot blocked by Kevin Durant. He lost another ball on a bad pass. It was Van Gogh creating with spray paint. It was Michelangelo building a mud fort. It was one on five. It was ridiculous.”

Ouch. But if you saw the game, then you’d know it’s true. If you didn’t, just don’t watch the NBA.com highlights. You might get the idea that the Thunder played particularly well instead of Kobe playing egregiously bad.

Prior to Game 2, Jackson didn’t shy away from commenting on Kobe’s recent poor shooting:

“If Kobe’s going to play this style of basketball, he has to adjust his game to match ours. He can still play exactly the way he’s playing right now, but he has to limit the amount of shots he takes. Obviously he can’t shoot 30-something percent. He can’t shoot that percentage and have us be successful. Either his proficiency has to increase or he has to become a playmaker out of those things. But he can still draw all the attention and still make the plays.”

In Game 4, Kobe responded to Phil by being a facilitator – and nothing more. He could have been replaced by Luke Walton or Shannon Brown in the first half and the Lakers would have had a better shot to win. It’s true. And instead of a confident Lakers team entering Game 4 with a 3-0 lead, they came in with a 2-1 lead and, worse, a resentful leader. Now, the Lakers head into tonight’s game tied 2-2 with a Thunder team poised to shock the world.

If Kobe’s 2007-2008 season showed us anything, it was that he was finally ready to trust his teammates. So when this confidence in his teammates disappears when he is arguably surrounded by the most talented team he’s ever played with, it makes you wonder.

“I think he searches for his teammates to show direction or initiative,” Coach Jackson said after Game 2, “and if they don’t, he’s going to step into the vacuum as quickly as a wink. Because if they’re not active and directive and attacking and doing things that he sees this offense has to do, then he’s going to step in and carry the torch.”

In Game 3, Fisher, Bynum, and Artest all showed direction, activity, initiative, and whatever else Jackson wants to call it, yet Kobe felt the need to step in and carry the torch regardless. In Game 4, though, when Kobe was working on his entry pass all game, Fisher, Odom, Bynum and Gasol, all played consistently but no one stepped up. Kobe didn’t step into the vacuum as quickly as a wink; he didn’t step into it at all.

So what’s the solution? Were these games just flukes, mistakes, or are they cause for deep concern? It led Frank Hughes to ask, “Was nearly $84 million and three more years worth it to keep Kobe?” And while my answer to this question is a resounding “of course it was, stop looking for any kind of angle you can Frank,” I can’t say that I’m not worried when Russell Westbrook‘s Ferrari is leaving Derek Fisher’s ’94 Honda Civic in the dust.

When is Kobe going to realize that Gasol and Bynum are two of the most formidable big men in the league and can have their way with Krstic and Collison? When is Phil Jackson going to consider playing a zone? I don’t have the advanced sabermetrics for this, but as someone watching each (painful) game in its entirety, getting back on track starts with resting Kobe an extra few minutes, putting him on Westbrook more, playing Shannon Brown with the first unit at the end of quarters, using Luke Walton more effectively to keep the ball on his side of the triangle and putting it into the hands of whoever’s on his block, whether it be Bynum or Gasol, and injecting Jujubes and Sour Patch Kids directly into the vein that bulges from Lamar Odom’s right shoulder.

And Kobe, please just do what you do best.

What do the Lakers need to do to win the title? Who needs to step up most for the Lakers?

Follow Adam on Twitter at @FloBombin.

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  • http://sevendeu2u.wordpress.com/ Seven Duece

    Maybe he just had a bad game.

  • http://dimemag.com/author/adam/ Adam Flomenbaum

    @ Seven Duece – Haha (2 bad games)

  • atticusmitch

    Well said. But Kobe is Kobe. And the Lakers are still not going to roll over. Lets remember that Phil is perfect when he wins the first game in a playoff series, and I dont think he is going to change that streak now. The Lakers are out of serious sync but with a couple x-factors they will come back. Though I don’t think that they will win the title this year(not with the way Bron Bron and co. are playing) I do think that they will win this series and possibly go to the Finals. Kobe has shown hints of his former selfish self, but these out burst will pass. He is a professional and he will do what it takes to win. I expect him to distribute a lot more tonight and insure the win for the team and not just for himself. Though if he does do it for himself. I’ll take that Win too.

  • sh!tfaced

    A few things the Lakers need to adjust: Kobe’s finger, Artest’s sanity, Fisher’s age, Bynum’s desire and the bench’s hunger…

  • http://dimemag.com/author/adam/ Adam Flomenbaum

    @atticussmith – first, love the name atticus and am excited for the To Kill a Mockingbird 50th Anniversary stuff going on

    second – I’m in the same boat as you – I know the Lakeshow will pull it off but it’s definitely disconcerting. Also a good stat, the Lakers are 17-0 in Game 5 home games with the series tied.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mr.Brogden Mr. Brogden

    Truthfully, I think LA’s gonna lose tonight.

    OKC’s playin’ like the hungrier team.

    In the playoffs, the hungrier team is the better team and they usually win.

    AB, Pau and LO should be formidable.
    But two of them are soft.
    I can be wronger than a $3 bill, but my disappointment in LA aint goin’ nowhere.

  • 808

    First of all, nice article. Well-written.

    Who needs to step up??? I say Lamar Odom. I mean, you right about Bynum and Gasol having their way down low. But they’ll get theirs regardless. And I think teams know that…but I don’t think any are going to double either of these dudes all game long.

    That is where Odom has to step up. He was the one doing work on that stretch when Kobe was hurt. He’s the reason why everyone was salivating, wondering what kind of damage the Lakers were going to do once Kobe returned. He’s a tough cover because he’s so long and can put the ball on the floor.

    But he hasn’t done ish in this series.

  • C

    How can you call yourself one of the biggest Kobe fans out there, and then repeat the hater driven myth that he gave up on that Phoenix series? Fact was, if they didn’t get scoring from the bigs in the low post, they weren’t going to win that game no matter what.

  • http://divinemoments.vox.com/ Marty Dibley

    I’m going to bookmark this blogg on Dilicious to get more clicks for you.

  • http://www.opposingviews.com/i/thunder-blowout-kobe-bryant-and-lakers-should-be-embarrassed LFan

    C,

    Because he’s realistic. Being a Kobe fan doesn’t mean you won’t note his flaws.

  • iannyb

    Kobe has to be added to the list of sup[erstars who fell off quickly(Garnett,Duncan,Iverson. He now has to struggle to score be it age injury whathever.What we are getting is vintage Kobe,ballhog knucklehead doucebag.that’s all he has been just ask Shaq. Like Ray-Ray said he refuses to play the back-burner. For one of the iron-willed,he can be thrown off track by a little smack talk and being scored on. Grow up Kobe and somewhere Mitch Kupchak is shaking his head in disbelief.

    Crooked I, Glasses Malone and Bishop Lamont need to fit Kobe’s name with the Old west on their next no country for old men mixtape’

    R.i.p Kobe

  • Big V

    Good job on this article.

    We’ll have some answers in about 2.5 hours.

  • Adam Flomenbaum

    Watching first quarter i’m thinking “oh” – but he could have done this the last two games, that’s all i’m saying. Also notice the Brown-Bryant-Artest-Odom-Pau lineup

  • tp

    i call semi BS. he only put up 1 shot for most of the first Q and the lakers were up big. making a statement right? giving up right? being selfish right? i’m no kobe apologist but you cant have it both ways!!!!!

  • http://www.SoulChorea.com David Stern

    I remember, and maybe you guys do too, when Phil sat Jordan out of a finals game against Portland, because he was bugging out taking/missing too many shots and not getting his teammates involved. He sat him down, and forced him to watch his teammates succeed in a critical game without him.

    I’ve yet to see Phil do this with Kobe; I’m thinking that Phil might hesitate just a little…he seems to trust this bunch much less than the Bulls squad. He trusted Pip and Horace Grant and Luc Longley way more than he trusts Artest and Odom and Bynum. You never know what’s gonna happen with those guys. At least with Kobe out there jacking shots, even when they’re not falling, someone’s trying to initiate something offensively and it opens them up for offensive rebounds and cuts and screens.

  • http://www.SoulChorea.com Kermit The Washington

    crap, I forgot to change my name back from David Stern to Kermit The Washington! I guess that’s what I get for messing around..