Time for Kobe to grow up or get out

Published Mar. 30, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

Mike Brown is the easy scapegoat. He’s replacing Phil Jackson, the greatest manager of athletic egos in the history of sports. Brown is a defensive-minded coach operating in Showtime Los Angeles.

Whatever is wrong with the Lakers — and there was plenty wrong the final three quarters Thursday night inside the Staples Center against the Oklahoma City Thunder — must be traced to Brown, the coach with the audacity to bench Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum in back-to-back games.

Mike Brown is clearly in over his head. Or maybe he’s not?

Maybe Kobe Bryant is the problem. Maybe 7-foot center Andrew Bynum jacked up a transition 3-pointer against Golden State on Tuesday in rebellion against the Black Mamba rather than Mike Brown. Maybe Bynum chuckled on the bench, promised to continue pulling up from behind the arc and appeared totally insubordinate to Brown as a passive-aggressive way of tweaking Kobe Bryant.

Maybe Bynum sees what I saw Thursday night from my seat at the Staples Center:

The Kobe Bryant “M-V-P” chants are a joke. Kobe’s bid to lead the league in scoring is a bigger joke. The NBA is a young man’s league, and Kobe’s unwillingness to accept that the young guns — Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, etc. — need to do the gunning is the main reason the Lakers are schizophrenic.

The Lakers are five games behind the second-place Spurs in the Western Conference. Why? Is it simply a case of Gregg Popovich being significantly superior to Mike Brown? Or has Tim Duncan handled his descent from superstar to star far better than Mamba?


Duncan isn’t chasing any MVP trophies. He’d like to tack on a fifth title at the end of his career and he doesn’t mind being an important role player. Meanwhile, Kobe suffers from the much-hyped, exaggerated-importance “killer instinct,” which is the subconscious instinct to kill your coach with selfish play.

He’s gotten away with it his entire career. Phil Jackson could overlook it. Shaq’s dominance made Kobe’s immature, narcissistic playing style irrelevant. In the initial post-Shaq years, Kobe was so dominant he could make his immature, narcissistic playing style irrelevant. Not now. He’s 33. He’s played 55 more regular-season games than Duncan. Kobe is a shell of himself, despite whatever German doctors did to him over the summer.

He’s shooting a 16-year-low .425 from the field. Only during his rookie season has he connected on a lower percentage of his shots.

With the West-leading Thunder in town Thursday night, Kobe fired off 25 — mostly difficult — shots. He sank seven. Meanwhile, OKC’s Russell Westbrook eviscerated the Los Angeles backcourt, dropping 36 points, including 17 in a remarkable third quarter. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember seeing the Black Mamba stepping up to do anything to slow Westbrook. Bryant left it to Ramon Sessions and Matt Barnes to try to derail the Westbrook freight train.

You can’t fix the Lakers until you fix Kobe Bryant. As an organization, the Lakers are in that process. Clearly, Mike Brown feels secure enough to bench Bryant. General manager Mitch Kupchak feels secure enough to unload Kobe’s cronies, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher.

Now it’s time for Kupchak and Brown to sit Kobe down privately and firmly tell him that it’s best he dial back his shooting to about 15 attempts per game (he’s averaging 23.4) and put a saddle on Bynum and Pau Gasol.

The necessity of this action has been obvious for two years. Phil couldn’t get Kobe to do it last year, and the Lakers got hammered in the playoffs.

Now Mike Brown is an idiot and a bad coach because he can’t get Kobe to buy in? Kobe’s the problem. If the Lakers can’t get it worked out this season and the Bulls fail to reach the NBA Finals, I say Chicago would be the perfect place for Kobe to pursue his Jordan-tying sixth championship next season.

I don’t have an NBA trade machine. I don’t know how you get Kobe to Chicago and get the right pieces in return, but I know it’s closing in on time for the Lakers to move on past their shoot-first, think-later star guard.

Kobe’s an old man with a young mind. It’s a disease that afflicts most of us. We have difficulty accepting the things we can no longer do. The difference between Kobe and most of us, we don’t have 18,000 fans shouting “M-V-P” when we step to the line after the refs bail us out with a bogus foul call.

It’s easier for our delusion to end. Kobe might never accept what’s been obvious for years: He’s not Michael Jordan.