Byron Scott claims to be Kobe Bryant's friend. Bryant was his rookie in Scott's final season in the league, and the two men remained close even 18 years later, even after Bryant helped defeat Scott's New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals. Their friendship was a key selling point in Scott's hire as the franchises 25th head coach.
But friends don't let friends do this.
Kobe Bryant embarrassed himself again Tuesday night in the Lakers' 111-77 defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, scoring 4 points on 1-14 shooting. It tied the worst shooting night of Bryant's career.
After the game a clearly frustrated Bryant told reporters that he needed help in order to get easier looks. That is help he has not received from the Lakers head coach this season in a Kobe worshipping offense that too often simply devolves into and over-matched Bryant going one-on-one against a set defense on possessions, like this one against the Warriors:
To be clear, Bryant is not faultless for continuing to fire away like he can average 35 points a game when he is shooting 31.1% from the field and 19.5% on three pointers. But we all understand athletes, especially dominant ones, are usually the last people to realize they have lost it.
One of the reasons many analysts cited for Scott's hire was that a friend of Kobe's could be the one to tell him this, the one to tell him he needed to accept a reduced role for the betterment of the team and the protection of his legacy.
So far Scott has done the opposite, telling reporters he is "fine" with Bryant's awful shot selection, that Kobe has earned the "privilege" to shoot as much as he wants, and that he isn't worried about playing Bryant huge minutes because he thinks it is what will best help the team win. In doing so Scott is not only setting a potentially dangerous double standard in the locker room but also handing Bryant a match as he pours lighter fluid on his legacy. And that's the worst part: Scott understands that Bryant is playing badly:
Byron on Kobe shooting 1-14: "He just wasn't making them...I got faith in Kobe that he'll be okay, but tonight he was really struggling."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) November 25, 2015
Byron said he still had "a lot of faith" in Kobe. He won't be shortening Kobe's playing time. Wants him to shoot fewer threes, though.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) November 25, 2015
Kobe is not going to be okay though, not without a serious reduction in his usage. Right now Bryant is using up 28.4% of the Lakers' possessions while he is on the floor, which makes less than zero sense for a 37-year old coming back from three consecutive season ending injuries with over 47,000 NBA minutes on the odometer.
Bryant's usage is even more damning when one considers that he is on a team with no realistic playoff expectations, one that features two recent lottery picks and several other promising young players who need more minutes and reps to develop. Against the Warriors, Bryant took as many shots (14) as Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell combined. He made just one, while Randle and Russell made seven. As unlikely voice of reason Nick Young put it after the game:
.@LAIreland asked Nick Young what LAL can do better, his response: "We can't let one guy determine everything. We have to play as a team"— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) November 25, 2015
Nick Young continued: "It can't be like a video game & you're playing w/ your favorite player, you know? We've all got to share the ball."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) November 25, 2015
Maybe Scott thinks he is just being supportive of a friend. But true friends tell each other when they are messing up and speak the hard truths that no one else can. The truth is that the Lakers gave Bryant a two-year, $48 million dollar extension to ensure he would finish his career with the Lakers. Bryant was never going to live up to his inflated salary, but thanks to his current usage, the gap between even the most pessimistic predictions at the time and Bryant's current reality is only exceeded by that of Kobe's shot total and those of his teammates'.Scott needs to do his job as head coach and his duty as a friend and rein Bryant in before he further damages his legacy.