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
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Greg MonroePistonsC8
49Tyreke EvansKingsPG14
48Brandon JenningsBucksPG13
47Stephen CurryWarriorsPG12
46Ricky RubioTWolvesPG11
45Al JeffersonJazzPF14
44Anthony DavisHornetsPF13
43Serge IbakaThunderPF12
42Al HorfordHawksC7
41Ty LawsonNuggetsPG10
40Danny GrangerPacersSF6
39Tim DuncanSpursPF11
38John WallWizardsPG9
37Monta EllisBucksSG8
36Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF10
35Roy HibbertPacersC6
34Tyson ChandlerKnicksC5
33Eric GordonHornetsSG7
32Kevin GarnettCelticsPF9
31Manu GinobiliSpursSG6
30Amar’e StoudemireKnicksPF8
29Marc GasolGrizzliesC4
28DeMarcus CousinsKingsC3
27Paul PierceCelticsSF5
26Andre IguodalaNuggetsSG5
25Rudy GayGrizzliesSF4
24Josh SmithHawksPF7
23Derrick RoseBullsPG8
22Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
21Steve NashLakersPG7
20James HardenThunderSG3
19Pau GasolLakersPF6
18Chris BoshHeatPF5
17Kyrie IrvingCavsPG6
16LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF4
15Tony ParkerSpursPG5
14Dirk NowitzkiMavsPF3
13Andrew BynumSixersC2
12Blake GriffinClippersPF2
11Kevin LoveTWolvesPF1
10Carmelo AnthonyKnicksSF3
9Russell WestbrookThunderPG4
8Rajon RondoCelticsPG3
7Deron WilliamsNetsPG2
6Dwyane WadeHeatSG2
5Dwight HowardLakersC1
4Kobe BryantLakersSG1

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.