The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have a rivalry that dates back several decades, and Kobe Bryant was part of that when the two teams played each other twice in the NBA Finals during his career. That’s why it was a bit strange when Bryant seemed committed to helping the Celtics during the offseason, but now we know what really may have been going on.
The Black Mamba was sabotaging his team’s No. 1 enemy.
Fine, that probably didn’t happen, but it is still fair to wonder if Kobe’s influence had a negative impact on the 2018-19 Celtics. For starters, Jayson Tatum has openly said he idolized Bryant growing up, and he got a chance to train with him over the summer. When asked back in September what advice Kobe gave him during that time, Tatum told Clay Skipper of GQ that it was quite simple.
“Shoot every time,” he recalled Kobe telling him. “Pass if you have to. But if not, shoot it.”
After breaking out in the playoffs last year, many expected Tatum to become a bonafide superstar in his second NBA season. Instead, he regressed. While he averaged 15.7 points per game compared to 13.9 in his rookie year, his shot selection was poor for much of the season. His field goal percentage dropped from 47.5 to 45.0 percent, and that was hardly a coincidence.
Tatum made a habit of taking long two-point shots this season, which of course was a staple of Kobe’s game during his Hall of Fame career. Brad Stevens’ system does not cater to isolation plays like that, however, and Tatum often tried to make things happen with iso plays and failed miserably.
Of course, you could also argue that the big difference for Tatum in last year’s playoffs and this past season was the presence of Kyrie Irving. Kobe may have helped make that an issue, too. Many believe Irving ruined Boston’s chemistry this season by criticizing his younger teammates, who were one win away from the NBA Finals last year without him. Like Tatum, Irving grew up watching Kobe and trying to mimic his game. That is likely where he got the ideas for his leadership style.
Back in February, Joe Vardon of The Athletic revealed that Bryant once told Irving that LeBron James was not cut out to be the “lightning rod” — also described by Vardon as the “conflict creator” — for the Cleveland Cavaliers the way Kobe was with the Lakers. Kobe felt Irving could be that guy, and Kyrie agreed. When that relationship was explained to several Celtics players, they admitted it may have something to do with the way Irving was trying to push his teammates and coaches.
“I mean, he loves Kobe, Kobe said that, he agreed — it kind of does make sense,” Celtics point guard Terry Rozier said. “If (Irving and Bryant) agreed on that, that’s something that you can really look at, but I don’t know if he really wakes up every morning telling himself that he wants to cause conflict or cause problems.”
At the time, Irving was playing the best basketball of his career. The playoffs were a much different story, and it has become clear that Kyrie may have destroyed the chemistry in the Celtics’ locker room this season. That leadership style obviously worked for Kobe, but we already explained why Irving is not on that level.
So there you go, Lakers fans. Even in retirement, Kobe is still finding a way to beat the Celtics.