For Kobe Bryant, Wizards and Verizon Center could provide respite in a difficult season
By Mike Wise,
Season’s Greetings, Mamba. The nation’s capital gladly welcomes back Kobe Bryant and the Lake Show, an annual drama in American sports. You and that team are essentially the Yankees of pro basketball. We know these are not the best of times for your Lakers, who are 9-14 following Thursday’s loss, on their second coach in a month and still without Steve Nash.
At 34, you should be enjoying your recent inclusion into the 30,000-point club, a feat accomplished by just Kareem, Wilt, Michael and Karl Malone. You should be celebrated, Mamba, as the greatest player that came after Michael Jordan, the guy who took the torch at a time when the NBA desperately needed a new marquee.
Instead, you sound fearful of leaving the game without a sixth title. You know you’re not going to play forever and wonder if Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Nash and this $100 million crew can ever get its health and act together. As Michael once said, “You only have so many jumps left in your knee” and that day will come for you like it came for all the greats.
But for just one night, we provide solace, comfort, a rejuvenation spa — Verizon Center, where even the Bobcats have found inner peace and self-esteem. You can’t feel ancient and brittle here. We make you young again. We are the NBA’s answer to Botox.
You think you got problems? You don’t even know.
Here the starting point guard is visiting a knee specialist in New York on Friday, the starting center is allowed to play only about 20 minutes per game and Jordan Crawford thinks he’s you.
The Wizards are an NBA-worst 3-16, John Wall’s sore patella has ruined all hope of a stop-and-pop transition game, Nene’s plantar fasciitis makes him a part-timer, and the other night Jan Vesely air-balled another free throw.
The worst part is, Kobe, chemistry isn’t the problem.
The coach isn’t the problem.
Randy Wittman is doing a bang-up job with an inferior roster right now, one in which five of his top eight players have some kind of malady. I know you and the Lakers often ask yourselves, “Could Phil Jackson have gotten us to mesh and win earlier?” We never ask that question here. We just pray for Witt.
Phil could not make the Wizards 6-10. Pat Riley could not make them 5-11. A staff of Red Auerbach, Red Holtzman and Johnny “Red” Kerr could not make the Wizards 4-12. With the exception of two games, the tenacity is there — the talent is not.
Remember when all they needed during the days of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison was a rock or two of a role player — someone unafraid to deliver a hard foul, get a tough rebound in the final minute, put back a miss with bodies hanging all over him?
Yeah, well, there are plenty of guys like that now. There just aren’t any Gils, Carons and ’Tawns on the court now. The role players came, the talent left. Now, there are about 12 Trevor Bookers. Unfortunately, some of them make $13 million per season.
They all work hard, act professional and do their part to change a culture of immaturity in the locker room. But their upside isn’t what the upside of the knuckleheads used to be. It’s low risk, less return — at least until Wall gets healthy and Nene is actually allowed to be a full-timer.
Someone once told me that Michael, when he was the general manager in Washington, was trying to convince you to come here during your unhappiest, free agent days in L.A. I also heard he wanted to take Pau at No. 1 the same year he took Kwame Brown. But he was afraid to use the top pick for a Euro player. Michael never told me if it was true.
Either way, in your moodiest, impatient, I-don’t-have-much-time-left moments, remember, as you drop 30 or more on the home team Friday night: You could have been a Wizard. Most nights, that’s bad drama. In fact, next to the Lake Show, that’s community theater.
In the grand scheme, Kob, you have played brilliantly for the greatest franchise the NBA has known the last four decades. Life is good. Now go get a mud peel and a hot-stone massage, Mamba. We’ll see you at 7.
For previous Mike Wise columns go to washingtonpost.com/wise.
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