by Myles Brown / @mdotbrown

What is there left to say about Kobe Bryant? Between his fans and critics, there isn’t an adjective or expletive left in the dictionary. But that’s just idle chatter, utterly useless in moving the discussion forward. A better question is, what do we know about Kobe Bryant?

As always, only these two things: He wants to win and he wants to win his way. They’re alternately admirable and aggravating desires that have driven him to fits of brilliance and at times, made him a bit of a bastard. But that comes with the territory, right? What we need to know is, after 16 seasons, what has Kobe learned about sacrifice?

He’s acknowledged that this iteration of the Lakers is probably the most talented he’s ever played with and many would undoubtedly agree. Yet the first retort would surely be the ‘03-04 Lakers lineup including Shaq, Gary Payton and Karl Malone. So let’s look back at that time, shall we?

All season, Kobe’s usage rate was as low as it’s ever been and he played smart, efficient basketball, often carrying the team through difficult stretches, as Shaq and Malone were hobbled by injuries. But then came the Finals. Tired of playing little brother to O’Neal, dogged by the looming threat of his legal troubles and fueled by his Game 2 heroics, Kobe played like a man possessed. He should’ve gotten an exorcism.

Call it conjecture if you’d like, but the facts remain: Kobe consistently took more—and made less—shots than anyone on the court, slumping through 10-27, 8-25 and 7-21 outings in the series. He clearly wanted to establish his dominance, only to learn that it doesn’t always equate with excellence.

Anyway, it’s been eight years. He’s grown, learned, changed, all that good shit, right? When asked whose team this year’s Lakers were, Kobe dismissed the question with a wave of the hand, asserting that such labels exist only for column fodder, right? That his skills are expertly complemented, just as everyone else’s, making them a dangerous team, long as it doesn’t devolve into a pissing match… right?

“It’s my team.”

Shit.

Kobe Bryant has claimed he doesn’t see himself renewing his contract, which expires in two years and I believe him. With a stacked roster and just enough health to capture two more Championships, Kobe may see himself racking up rings six and seven before riding off into the sunset as Michael should have. It’s the shrewd and appropriate move. “At least Kobe knew when to stop,” they’ll say. “And he did win more than Jordan, you know…” Kobe came in his way and he’ll go out his way; shooting, knowing full well the ire or immortality that awaits him.

These last two years could define his legacy as either ambitious or oblivious. Given his ranking this year, it’s clear that we trust he’ll make the right decision.


Where should Kobe Bryant rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Greg Monroe Pistons C 8
49 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 14
48 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 13
47 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 12
46 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 11
45 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 14
44 Anthony Davis Hornets PF 13
43 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 12
42 Al Horford Hawks C 7
41 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 10
40 Danny Granger Pacers SF 6
39 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 11
38 John Wall Wizards PG 9
37 Monta Ellis Bucks SG 8
36 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 10
35 Roy Hibbert Pacers C 6
34 Tyson Chandler Knicks C 5
33 Eric Gordon Hornets SG 7
32 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 9
31 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 6
30 Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 8
29 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 4
28 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 3
27 Paul Pierce Celtics SF 5
26 Andre Iguodala Nuggets SG 5
25 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 4
24 Josh Smith Hawks PF 7
23 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 8
22 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
21 Steve Nash Lakers PG 7
20 James Harden Thunder SG 3
19 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 6
18 Chris Bosh Heat PF 5
17 Kyrie Irving Cavs PG 6
16 LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 4
15 Tony Parker Spurs PG 5
14 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 3
13 Andrew Bynum Sixers C 2
12 Blake Griffin Clippers PF 2
11 Kevin Love TWolves PF 1
10 Carmelo Anthony Knicks SF 3
9 Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 4
8 Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 3
7 Deron Williams Nets PG 2
6 Dwyane Wade Heat SG 2
5 Dwight Howard Lakers C 1
4 Kobe Bryant Lakers SG 1

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.