What Happens When Kobe Just Isn't Kobe Anymore?
The most recent comparable injury is that of Chauncey Billups in January 2012. In his 20th game with the Clippers, after averaging 15 points per game and guiding the Clippers with his veteran savvy and unique quickness, he tore his achilles in a non-contact play atop the arc.
Kobe sustained his injury when driving to the hoop, also non-contact. Chauncey has only played just above 32,000 minutes for his career and he was not at full strength for any portion of the 2012 - '13 season, recovering from surgery. It is a long, intense road back to the hardwood for Kobe Bryant, and no one should be sure of anything. He could be done for all we know...
So what comes next? What happens if Kobe is never to be the Kobe we all know ever again? What is the Lakers next move? Are they destined to panic and sign Dwight Howard to the maximum contract? Do they seriously consider using the amnesty clause on Kobe Bryant instead of Pau Gasol? Can the Lakers really expect to compete with an aging Steve Nash at point guard or do they take a long look at Brandon Jennings?
Life after Kobe is something the Lakers need to begin thinking of if they haven't already. The days where Kobe could put the team on his back and win playoff series are over. As blunt as that was, tell me it's not true? Today's game requires quickness on the perimeter, not just one-on-one fade away jumpers each time down the court. Kobe is a fantastic player, a top-10 NBA great - but today's game doesn't suit his game anymore.
Ball movement, spacing and shooters are required for a successful trip into the postseason, but defensive integrity and rebounding become huge factors down the stretch. Without prolific perimeter scoring and consistency on the defensive and offensive glass, the Lakers will continue to be lumped into mediocrity.
Keeping Kobe longer than you should would be a mistake, and would ultimately just be for his legacy. There is no reason to pay a player, any player that is, $30 million even if he is 100% healthy, but the fact that Kobe will almost undoubtedly miss a few months to half the NBA season, there is just no justification for carrying a contract that large.
Who will take over in LA once Kobe is done? Will the Free agent class of 2014 (LeBron, Wade...) bring someone to the Lakers? Or will they become what their little brothers (Clippers) once were? Will the Lakers management allow the Clippers to bully them after being swept in the season series in '12 - '13?