David Rosenthal, CBS Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — It is no secret that Kobe Bryant has struggled to start the 2015 NBA season.
Bryant himself admitted that he “freaking sucks” right now, and added “I’m the 200th-best player in the league right now,” just for good measure.
The former MVP is averaging 15.8 points per game this year and is shooting a miserable 32 percent from the field.
He is 20-62 (32 percent) after his first 62 shots this year, and even worse, he is 7-34 (20 percent) from beyond the three-point line as well.
Bryant has been air-balling shots left and right, hitting the backboard and nothing else on shots, and just hasn’t looked like himself on the court this year.
No, Bryant is not the same player who led the Lakers to back-to-back NBA championships in 2009 and 2010 or who teamed up with Shaquille O’Neal to take the team to three consecutive titles from 2000-2002.
Nor is he the same player who scored 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006.
He isn’t even the same player who won the All-Star Game MVP award on four occasions.
Instead, Bryant is a 37-year-old who, like the rest of us, is human.
Fans are quick to forget how Bryant tore his Achilles tendon in 2013 after playing seven consecutive quarters and at least 40 minutes in seven consecutive games.
At the time, Bryant was 34 and averaging the second-most minutes per game in the NBA (38.4) that season behind rookie Damian Lillard.
After an arduous rehab process, Bryant returned for the ’13-’14 season Dec. 8 after the Lakers’ first 19 games.
Unfortunately, Bryant suffered a lateral tibial fracture in his left knee and would miss the rest of that season, partly due to the Lakers’ struggles.
The resilient Bryant was not done yet, and after another rehabilitation process, he returned to the Lakers for the ’14-’15 season.
On Nov. 30, he became the oldest player in NBA history to record 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a game, and on Dec. 14, he passed Michael Jordan to become the NBA’s third all-time scorer.
Later in the year, he became just the third player 36 or older ever to record multiple triple-doubles in a season.
In January, the injury-plagued Bryant suffered a torn rotator cuff that forced him to miss the remainder of that season as well.
And now, here we are.
Bryant completed yet another difficult rehab process, and through the first four games of the season, he has not looked like the same player Lakers fan enjoyed over the past 19 seasons.
Before fans and experts like TNT’s Kenny Smith, who told Bryant, “we have a seat waiting for you at TNT” (as an analyst), start to criticize the future hall-of-famer, let’s take a look back at the entirety of his career.
The Lakers acquired Bryant after the 1996 NBA Draft when he was just 17.
He went on to become the youngest player to play in an NBA game at 18 years, 72 days old (a record that has been now broken), and remains the only player to start in an NBA All-Star game despite not starting for his own team that same season.
He was also the youngest winner of the Slam Dunk Contest, winning the 1997 event at 18.
Here’s a stat many fans are quick to forget:
Before the 2012-2013 season during which Bryant suffered his torn Achilles tendon, Bryant played in at least 60 games during every single season of his NBA career except for two seasons.
In 2011-2012, he played 58 games due to a fractured index finger, and 1998-1999, he played in 50 games because of the NBA’s lockout-shortened season.
So except for an NBA lockout and a broken finger, over the course of his first 17 seasons, Bryant regularly played full seasons for the Lakers, winning NBA titles in five of them.
It is only recently that he has been plagued by injuries that forced him to miss large parts of the past two seasons.
So in his NBA-record 20th season with the Lakers, how can fans be so quick to dismiss Bryant and criticize the Los Angeles legend?
There are 82 games in a season, and the Lakers have played four of them.
No one has ever questioned Bryant’s work ethic.
In fact, he is regarded as one of the hardest workers in all of sports.
So if he can’t get back into form after the first four games of the season, after years of difficult and debilitating injuries, who can?
I am not arguing that Bryant will magically return to the player he was when the Lakers won their last championship in 2010, but to think that the Kobe Bryant we are seeing now will last is just ignorant.
So while the Internet goes crazy about his awful performance and makes “NBA Jam” parody videos about his shooting struggles, Lakers fans need to be patient.
Patience is not a strong suit of Lakers fans, that is for certain.
And while the past four seasons have been difficult to watch, patience is exactly what Bryant and the Lakers need.
Do you think anyone is more frustrated with Bryant than Bryant?
The man absolutely hates to lose, and you can guarantee that he is the first person to arrive at the Lakers practice facility and the last person to leave.
Fans cannot expect a 37-year old Bryant to have his former explosiveness, dunking ability and athleticism; that’s not how nature works.
The man has played almost two decades in the NBA, 17 All-Star games and has completed three tours with the U.S. Olympic team.
He is a nine-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection and has sacrificed his body, time and entire life to the game of basketball.
After being a superstar for his entire career, Bryant has officially entered the transition period in his career where he is no longer the team’s first, second or third option.
The Lakers have a nice group of young talent around Bryant, and he has accepted his diminished role, but needs more than four games to show fans he still belongs on the court.
Bryant is noticeably frustrated on the court, expressing his anger to reporters after each game and owning up to his poor play.
The Lakers may not make the playoffs this season, but one thing you can bet on is that Bryant will not be shooting 32 percent from the field and 20 percent from the 3-point line before the season’s end.
The Lakers are no longer in the”Give-the-ball-to-Kobe” era, and the young players on the team need to embrace that.
Bryant has urged D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle to take leadership roles on the team, and when that happens, Bryant will be able to step back a bit, get more comfortable with his shot and not feel forced to jack up 10 three-pointers a game.
The only thing Bryant can do at this point is keep shooting.
He didn’t wake up one morning having lost all his talent. He woke up one morning and wasn’t 27.
To expect Bryant to perform like he is in his 20s simply goes against the laws of nature.
Patience, Lakers fans, patience.
David Rosenthal is a web producer for CBS Los Angeles. David lives in Los Angeles and is a Dodgers, Kings, and Lakers fan. If you have any questions or comments for him, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org