Kobe Bryant will never be embarrassed. He shot 1-14 on national TV Tuesday night as the Warriors rampaged over the 2-12 Lakers on their way to history. That won't embarrass Kobe.
He understands how rich his legacy is in Los Angeles and in the NBA. Every basketball demigod meets mortality. Kobe has studied the careers of the greats. He surely recognizes his own demise, as he witnessed those that happened in front of him years ago, particularly that of Michael Jordan. When Kobe acknowledges that, barring a surprising change of heart, this will be his last season, he is admitting that he knows his time has come. He's not an idiot. He can process the 1-14 nights and understand it's over.
The question is what to do now. There are 58 games left! We have four and a half months and 17 national TV appearances more of this! As Zito Madu wrote this week, Kobe doesn't have it in him to become deferential. What made Kobe great -- the ruthless drive and individualistic impetus to do everything all the time -- is in part making the Lakers a laughingstock. Kobe's drive is still turned up to 11, but the speaker's blown. It's like slamming your foot on the gas pedal when your car's permanently stuck in neutral. It's just not going to work.
So what now?
Why is Kobe still here? Because he's under contract. He's making $25 million this season. Kobe is a smart businessman. He's not walking away from $25 million. He's also still here because he hasn't really been able to say goodbye to the NBA recently due to injuries. This season is his farewell tour in a way. He's not going to take it upon himself to cut that short, not before he visits his familiar haunts and hears the familiar taunts. He's a legend. He deserves his goodbyes.
The Lakers can't cut Kobe, not when the end is in sight. Kobe still reigns over a huge population of Lakers fandom. You don't cut a player in the conversation for greatest Laker ever. And it's not like his draw is limited exclusively to L.A.: according to ESPN's numbers, the Lakers are the No. 1 road draw this season despite being the league's second-worst team. No offense to the young fellows, but folks aren't buying tickets because Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle are visiting. The Lakers' germ is still spread far and wide across North America because of Kobe's past exploits and current presence. The legacy means something to those people.
It may also mean something to other NBA players. L.A. has notoriously struggled to add marquee free agents in recent years, but part of the sales pitch is how well the Buss family takes care of the Lakers' stars. Cutting Kobe this close to his voluntary exit would dash that talking point, for whatever it may be worth.
No, the Lakers can't hit the eject button on this one. They need to ride it out.
Lakers Nation presents: Bryant didn’t mince words a few weeks ago
The minutes, the shots
Kobe is No. 2 on the Lakers in minutes per game, just a sliver behind Actually Good And Young Laker guard Jordan Clarkson. Why is Kobe, age 37 and clearly toast, playing 30 minutes per game for a hopeless team rebuilding with youth and cap space? Kobe has played in 11 of L.A.'s 14 games. Why? If Byron Scott can't stop himself from giving Kobe 28, 30, 32, 37 minutes, then why isn't Kobe getting a few more DNPs? Kobe can remain a presence on the team without actually dominating the team. Kevin Garnett is only playing 16 minutes per game in Minnesota. Why isn't that an option in L.A.? Tim Duncan is playing fewer minutes than Kobe, and a) Tim Duncan is playing really well and b) the Spurs are competing for a championship. If Tim Duncan can sit for 20 minutes of every game, why can't Kobe?
It's not like Kobe keeps the Lakers competitive out on the floor. He's been awful and he knows it. Everyone knows it. 33 players are averaging at least five three-point attempts per game. Only one (Robert Covington, who just returned from injury) is shooting worse than Kobe's 19.5 percent. (Yes, less than 20 percent.) Yet Kobe is No. 5 in threes attempted per game. There are 57 players averaging at least 15 points per game this season. Kobe has by far the lowest field goal percentage (31.1 percent).
Kobe Bryant is shooting 31.1 percent from the field and leading his team in attempts per game. This is not okay.
So when Byron Scott tells the media he's not going to tell Kobe to shoot less, it's not funny because hurr durr Byron Scott's a dummy. It's funny because OF COURSE BYRON SCOTT ISN'T GOING TO TELL KOBE TO SHOOT LESS. You can't teach a snake to cuddle with mice. It is not in the Black Mamba's nature to turn into a set shooter. That's not Kobe and clearly never will be.
Lakers Nation presents: Byron Scott defended Kobe's shot selection this week
The solution is fewer minutes. Don't bench him, even! Give him the start, yank him at the first timeout, sit him until deep into the second quarter. No more than 10 minutes in the first half, no matter the score. Start him out of halftime, yank him at the midway point of the quarter. No matter the score. If the game is close with six minutes left in regulation and you feel like juggling lit torches, put him in. Hell, put him in with Lou Williams, Nick Young, D'Angelo Russell and Clarkson in Goya's version of the Warriors' cheat code lineup. You only live once.
Get Kobe enough minutes to attempt a few Kobe things for the crowd. Reserve most backcourt minutes for Clarkson and Russell. (And Marcelo Huertas, because hilarious Vines are a form of sustainable energy and the NBA is all about being green.) Play out the season and move on for real.
This is the path. Not 30 minutes every night, not 16 shots a game (15 of which are bad), not seven threes a night from a dude shooting worse from beyond the arc than Charles Barkley did over his career. Limit Kobe's minutes, limit the embarrassment, limit the damage.
This -- putting a limit on Kobe -- is a new concept for the Lakers and Scott, but it's the only reasonable solution to prevent this from spiraling fully into farce ... if we aren't already there.