It’s time to take “respect” out of the NBA vocabulary, and Kobe Bryant proves it.
Look at what is happening with the announcement that Kobe finished 40th in this year's #NBArank. The same thing happened a year ago when we predicted Kobe to be the 25th-best player in 2013-14. The reaction both years was easy to predict, and it was ugly. Many fans were outraged, even ESPN folks were apoplectic, and Kobe himself mocked us, saying anyone who thinks he’s 25th “needs drug testing.”
The most common reaction was that we were crazy. OK, hard to refute that one.
The second-most common reaction was that we had disrespected the Mamba.
And that reaction was just plain incorrect. In fact, our problem was that we overrated Kobe tremendously, out of “respect.”
But “respect” is one of the most useless concepts in the NBA when it comes to player evaluation. If we had treated Kobe like any other player, we would’ve said he was no longer a top-25 player, or even close to that.
Let’s be blunt: Kobe Bean Bryant was one of the very worst players in the NBA last season -- a $30 million disaster. He was closer to the 425th-best player than the 25th-best player.
He played six games, in which he was mostly just terrible, with negative win shares -- that’s right, he was taking wins off the floor. The Lakers had a winning record before he arrived and immediately hit the skids. The team played worse with him on the floor, and on top of that, he insulted his teammates.
And this was entirely predictable. More than 1,000 men have played the guard position in the NBA. You can count on one hand the number of guards, from all of history, who have been notably productive after playing as many NBA minutes as Bryant has.
So why did we rank him as high as 25th? Out of respect. Too much respect, really.
In the NBA, “respect” is often a code word. It means different things to different folks, but when it comes to evaluating players, it often means that we agree to lie. We don’t like the truth, so we lie and call it “respect.”
Is this a polite impulse? It can be. We respect our elders, and in the NBA, we respect our veterans, even boorish guys like Kobe.
But if “respect” becomes a weapon to shut people up, what’s that about? If “respect” is a word used to bully people, that’s not real respect.
Why did Kobe get a $48.5 million extension from the Lakers before he proved he could play after the Achilles injury? Why didn't they just cut him using the amnesty clause, given that he’s probably done as a winning player?
Because the team believed it couldn't afford to “disrespect” Kobe. They knew he could make life difficult for them by appealing to his fans and supporters around the league. They knew he could bully them into “respect.”
You know, we shouldn't be forced to “respect” Kobe any more than he earns our respect. We can respect his career, sure, if we want to reminisce about the good ol' days.
But respect is earned, and the current version of Kobe is not much of an NBA player.
And when it comes to an evaluation system like #NBArank, it should be just that simple.