Kobe Bryant asked you to vote for Damian Lillard or other young, rising stars of the NBA. You — and by you I mean NBA fans around the globe — voted Kobe in as an All-Star Game starter anyway. For Kobe it would be All-Star Game No. 16.
His reaction? He doesn’t want to play.
“With all due respect to the fans that voted me in, I certainly appreciate that, they know how much I appreciate that, but you got to do the right thing as well,” Bryant said before the Lakers’ 109-102 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday night. “My fans know you got to reward these young guys for the work that they’ve been putting in….
“I think it’s important for them to go in and perform,” Bryant said. “They’ve been playing all season. They deserve to be in there. They deserve to play. So, I see no reason why they shouldn’t be out there doing their thing.”
Sorry Kobe, it doesn’t work that way. Nice try though, spinning it to be about the young players getting their chance.
The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement says that if a player is voted in by the fans or is selected by the coaches as a reserve, he has to play. If said player is injured the Commissioner can excuse him from the game, but if guys have played for their teams before or after the All-Star Game that permission has not been granted.
Kobe is expected to return from his knee injury prior to the All-Star Game (between that and his Achilles he has played just six games this season so far). There doesn’t seem to be a set rule about repercussions if the All-Star Game is skipped, but the conventional wisdom is he would have to sit out the Lakers’ first two games after the All-Star Game, too.
For Kobe to skip the game in New Orleans, he would need to get special permission from the commissioner. It doesn’t have to be for medical reasons, the commissioner (David Stern now, Adam Silver as of Feb. 2) can excuse a player at his discretion.
Kobe can ask out, but he’s not likely to get permission. This would be a slippery slope for the league — Dwyane Wade has missed more than a quarter of the Heat’s games this season to rest his knees, you know he would love the time off. If the league lets Kobe sit, Wade will want to sit, other veterans such as Carmelo Anthony may want to sit, and every year from now until they finally host the All-Star Game in London (which is a long, long, long way off, if it ever happens) veteran players will beg out of the game for one reason or another.
The league most likely isn’t going to go down that road — this is a huge marketing event for the NBA worldwide, and they are going to give the people what they want. And they want Kobe.
Which brings us to 2008, when Kobe was playing through his broken fingers, was voted an All-Star starter. He played the first 2:52 of that game then sat the rest of the way. We could see something similar in New Orleans. Kobe admitted as much.
“If I played [for the Lakers] before [the All-Star Game], the rule is you got to go in there and play or miss the next two games,” said Bryant. “So, that just means somebody would have to lose a spot, unfortunately and the back-ups would be playing a lot, because I’d go in there and do my two minutes and sit out.”
Those backups are likely going to include younger guards like Lillard and James Harden, plus maybe deserving guys like Goran Dragic and Mike Conley (depending on who the coaches select as reserves, if Chris Paul is healthy and other factors). Which is what Kobe wants anyway.