The moment Kobe Bryant announced that he would be retiring at the end of this season, the air around the Lakers season was forever altered. Once it was official, each Lakers game became a pageant for Kobe, a farewell tour where road teams cheered him and his unique brand of basketball went from chastised to celebrated.
There was an unspoken agreement of sorts: Kobe’s victory lap was more significant than anything else the Lakers had going on, including the development of their young players. On Wednesday morning that went from unspoken to boisterously announced when longtime Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told ESPN that everything was taking a backseat to Kobe’s farewell.
“Under normal circumstances [in a season like this], at some point, you would probably concentrate on just developing all your young players,” Kupchak told ESPN on Tuesday. “But we can’t do that right now.
This [season] is really a justified farewell to perhaps the best player in franchise history. And, God willing, he’s going to want to play every game and he’s going to want to play a lot of minutes in every game, because that’s just the way he is.”
It’s a rather bold proclamation, even if it’s just stating the obvious. While most Laker fans are focused on the big picture — and Kobe playing more minutes only helps their chances of losing and holding on to their 2016 first round draft pick and pave a better future for the franchise — it’s still shocking to see a high-ranking employee basically admit that the on-court product is secondary to the Kobe pageantry.
Kupchak goes on to say that he feels all the extra attention paid to Kobe actually helps the young players by hiding their mistakes even if they lose minutes to the five-time champion. He eventually admits that he hoped that Kobe and the influx of young talent “would lead to a better record than what we have today,” but remains optimistic about the Lakers’ future and their ability to lure free agents in the coming summer.
The whole thing is worth a read and you can check it out at ESPN here.