Watching Kobe Bryant and Joe Johnson go at it on Friday night was the basketball version of Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, except that fight actually had a winner.
With a shade under 20 seconds remaining in the game's first half, Kobe found himself isolated with Johnson in front of him. About 12 seconds and thirty jab steps later, in vintage Kobe fashion, he managed to rise above his fellow shooting guard and sink a fadeaway from about 14 feet away. The lead gave the Lakers a five-point cushion heading into the half and, for a moment, Kobe seemed to have forgotten that the shot was only his fourth conversion in his first 12 tries.
With the Lakers carrying a 52-47 lead into the half, Kobe put on his Mamba face as he strutted his stuff toward the locker room, nodding his head emphatically. The Lakers fans in attendance cheered wildly, and the entire scene nearly made me cry. And not because Kobe is my favorite player to watch, but because it is indicative of how far we've come.
Or, depending on how you look at it, how far we've regressed.
The winless Los Angeles Lakers brought their talents to the winless Brooklyn Nets on Friday night and the only reason anybody cared is because, deep down inside, we all know that it may have been the last time we see Kobe Bryant suit up in Brooklyn.
Heading into the game, Kobe and Johnson had combined to shoot 35-for-115 on the season, and if we have seen thus far over the course of the still young 2015-16 is any indication, the only thing the Nets and Lakers will be competing for come Christmas time will be who gets the most ping pong balls in this season's draft lottery. The Nets gave away their pick long ago and the Lakers will yield their pick if it falls outside of the top three, but I digress.
The point in all of this is quite simple: you don't exactly need to be MENSA material to know that Kobe and Joe Johnson's best days have probably passed them by. Still, though, when you're a 37-year-old all-time NBA great like Kobe, or a 34-year-old former NBA All-Star like Joe, you don't play just to play. You play to win the game!
But, of course, you also don't have to be MENSA material to know that, at this point, neither is capable of doing so by themselves, indicated by the fact that neither has exactly been lighting it up this season. Entering play on Friday night, Kobe and Joe combined to make 35 field goals over the course of the entire season. Stephen Curry, though, all by his lonesome, has made 28 THREE-POINTERS.
Consider that, entering play on Friday night, Kobe and Joe combined to score a mere 105 points on 115 field goal attempts, while Stephen Curry, all by his lonesome, scored 179 points on 101 field goal attempts.
This isn't to say that neither Kobe nor Joe have anything left to contribute in the NBA-such an assertion would be preposterous-it just goes to illustrate the point that neither is capable of carrying a team on their shoulders anymore. And as the season slowly crawls toward February, I simply can't wait for the Nets to trade Johnson, because that is exactly what needs to happen.
And I don't say that because I don't like Joe, I say it because I do.
As an aging NBA player who's out for more than simply earning a paycheck, there is nothing worse than whittling away during the latter years of your career on a team that you know is going nowhere. When you happen to know that your team is going nowhere before the season even begins, it does something negative to your spirit and your psyche. It affects your entire life and it literally makes you feel as if you're playing for nothing. When you're in the final year of your contract, though, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and believe me, in his mind, Joe Johnson is practically running through the darkness.
Even as Johnson was putting together his finest effort of the young season (22 points, 8-for-16 from the field), I couldn't help but to think about how seamlessly he would fit in with the Charlotte Hornets or how he could help a team like the Memphis Grizzlies or Sacramento Kings. And since the Nets have a dearth of draft picks over the coming years, one could easily find the merit in dealing the soon-to-be free agent for a draft pick or two.
In July 2014, when Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg of the Miami HEAT decided to re-sign Chris Bosh to a five-year maximum contract following the departure of LeBron James, they didn't agree to give the 30-year-old $118 million simply because they loved him, they did it out of a want to both increase their odds of retaining Dwyane Wade for the long-term and sending a message to to Wade.
We are merely pulling back, not pulling the plug.
Now, as we sit here just less than two years later, the HEAT discovered Hassan Whiteside, got their hands on Goran Dragic and lucked into Justise Winslow.
Now, in no time at all, with good health and good fortune, they have a chance to make some noise.
The Nets? Not exactly.
During the 2013-14 season, when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett found their way to Brooklyn and made the Nets into a team that we thought had a chance to contend for everything, there were nights when Johnson was the forgotten man. He was sometimes the guy that media members decided to chat to while they waited for Garnett, Pierce and Williams to get dressed.
Back then, it was hard to imagine Johnson being the last of the four to be standing. And frankly, today, it's even harder to witness.
In an NBA where Wesley Matthews earns $16 million and Cory Joseph earns $8 million, and in an NBA where the salary cap sits at $70 million and is expected to spike exponentially over the coming years, Johnson-whose talent has never been in doubt-can easily be dealt.
I'm looking forward to it, because he deserves better than being regressed to simply being the other old guy that gets to guard and square off against a Kobe Bryant who is still a shell of his 32-year-old self. Fittingly, as the Lakers were squeaking out a 104-98 victory that both gave Kobe's team their first victory of the season and dropped the Nets to 0-6 on their own, it was Johnson who missed the game's final meaningful shot. Bryant grabbed the rebound, hit the free throws, and put the game to bed.
On Friday night, though, as the winless Lakers squeaked out what will ultimately end up being a meaningless victory in a meaningless game, all I could think about was what lies ahead this season for these Nets.
A loss to the lowly Lakers says it all, though; whatever lies ahead, it ain't much. And in the best interest of both parties, hopefully, what lies ahead will soon cease to include Johnson-a player who still has a lot to offer to the right team.
Even the Lakers know: the Nets are rebuilding. And the sooner we stop pretending that Johnson will be the difference between a playoff run and not, for this team, is the better.