Lakers Teammates Hope Kobe’s Step Back Will Allow Him to Let Them Step Up

LOS ANGELES — The world is going to watch and wonder whether Kobe Bryant is indeed taking concrete steps toward aging gracefully.

He has finally accepted that his body won't let him do what he is used to doing—all over the floor, virtually always with the ball. He's speaking as if it's finally time for the old habits to die and for him consistently to pass the ball when he sees a double-team coming.

Described in Phil Jackson's 2013 book, Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, as "a hard-headed learner," Bryant transitioning fully to the latter from the former is going to be fascinating to track.

Yet there are some other people involved here. Let's call them an underserved minority, because even though they outnumber Bryant in body, they certainly do not in clout. The rest of the Lakers players, so often overlooked by coach Byron Scott this season and totally uncertain if they have futures here, are headed for real opportunities.

The only two guys you could say with any confidence will be in L.A. next season are Julius Randle and Nick Young—and Randle's not playing because of injury, and Young's below-market $5.2 million salary next season and productivity might make him the Lakers' best trading chip.

All of them knew when they showed up for training camp that the story of the Lakers' season was going to be Kobe's comeback. But no one was assuming Bryant's usage percentage would be the 35.8 it is right now, higher than ever in his entire career—except when at age 27 his 38.7 usage rate was the highest in pro basketball history.

(Bryant averaged 35.4 points on 45 percent field-goal shooting with 1.8 steals per game that 2005-06 season and absolutely should've been the NBA MVP over Steve Nash. He wasn't, partly because the Lakers were only pretty good and mostly because mainstream America wasn't ready to acknowledge Bryant so soon after the Colorado allegation.)


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