Earlier in the week, the folks over at the Worldwide Leader dropped their latest installment of ranking the best players in the NBA. The Funkmaster Flex bombs dropped when "No. 25" was listed next to his name. Riots started in the streets, women and children cried in each other's arms and every pundit collectively lost their minds. It was terrifying and glorious to watch.
However, the ruffling of feathers that took place by ranking Kobe at No. 25 clearly speaks to the uncertainty of what the Lakers' star guard will be like after returning from tearing his Achilles just six months ago. Will Kobe be the same first-team All-NBA guard that we all saw do work at age 34? Or, will he be a compromised 35-year-old with his explosiveness and lateral quickness lacking?
If he's his old self, then the No. 25 ranking will immediately be laughed off. If he's not quite the same, what type of Kobe Bryant player do we really have? A stationary scorer who can possibly distribute the rock to his fledgling supporting cast? Yikes.
Alas, there are only two ways I can see this season ending for the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant goes back into gunner mode
Kobe has always been fixated on taking aim at Michael Jordan's legacy. The ultimate goal for Kobe is to win another NBA championship, which this current iteration of the Lakers has as much of a chance of doing as the Jacksonville Jaguars do at winning two games this season. I envision Kobe legitimately giving this team a chance. He'll get excited about seeing guys like Nick Young and Wes Johnson in practice and be like, "Yeah, I can play with these guys. I can make them better!" Then, the man will step out on the court, realize that Swaggy P thinks he's better than Kobe and then the Black Mamba will eat his face.
Prediction: if that Achilles heals up for Kobe and he can return to his normal self, he's going to lead the league in scoring this year. I'm not talking about a casual 28-29 points/game. I'm talking in the 35 points/game range like back in 2005-06, when Sasha Vujacic was at his peak. I'm talking about Kobe putting up 40-50-point games on a consistent basis. Here are just a few of the things that could happen if gunner Kobe returns:
- We'll get the Kobe underbite back.
- Kobe will inexplicably have a few more tattoos.
- Steve Nash will be the oldest man in NBA history to lead the league in assists.
- Pau Gasol will babble Spanish gibberish in awe of Kobe scoring 70 points one night.
- Nick Young will furiously take notes on how to be a gunner and still be loved like Kobe is.
In the process, Kobe would inch ever closer to becoming the league's all-time leading scorer, passing Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. We would become further in awe of the greatness that is Kobe Bryant, and the question of "is Kobe Bryant the greatest scorer of all time?" would have to be raised. (Cue all of the Michael Jordan stans throwing tomatoes at me.)
But really, when Kobe Bryant made the proclamation that he was the best offensive post player in the NBA, no one really had a response. Recovering from an Achilles injury isn't going to hamper Kobe's scoring IQ, and in many ways, his creativity will be challenged because of it. This means we get gunner mode Kobe back. A win-win for everybody.
Kobe Bryant just isn't the same
Even if the previous scenario plays out, the Lakers probably still don't make the playoffs. The West is just that good. The early predictions are that Kobe will probably come back in December and return to lead the Lakers to eighth-seeded glory. But what happens if Kobe doesn't return until January? What if there are complications? We're living in an era where players are more mindful that their bodies are all they have. If Kobe doesn't feel great about his recovery, what is his motivation to return urgently? There is none.
Which, in turn, could cause the following domino effect:
- Pau Gasol is traded.
- Nick Young somehow leads the Lakers in scoring while simultaneously posting the worst shooting percentage of all time.
- Mike D'Antoni rambles in press conferences about missing Earl Clark.
- Jeanie Buss squares off in a cage match with Jim Buss in an owner-take-all battle for control of the Lakers. Jeanie wins and talks Kobe into holding off his return as long as possible to secure one last future run with the Lakers.
- The Lakers get a lottery pick, but not just any lottery pick. Newly installed commissioner Adam Silver forever cements his legend by freezing and folding the corner of the Lakers envelope and ensuring the Lakers get the No. 1 pick.
- The Lakers draft Andrew Wiggins and he immediately becomes Kobe's understudy.
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A Happy Hour drink recommendation: The Rusty Nail -- Regardless of how the circumstances play out for the Lakers, this is going to be a painful experience. That doesn't mean it can't be enjoyable though. So when you hit the bar this afternoon, order up a Rusty Nail. The drink is only painful in its name, but it is gloriously delicious. This simple cocktail is a 50/50 mix of blended scotch (Johnnie Walker Black is always a solid choice) and Drambuie. For what it's worth, I like my cocktail with more of a 2:1 ratio of scotch to Drambuie, but I might also be an alcoholic. TGIF.