Playing alongside Kobe Bryant unquestionably brought out the best, and the worst, in his teammates. They admired his work ethic and intensity, but those same elements played no small role in alienating All-Stars like Karl Malone, Dwight Howard, and, of course, Shaquille O’Neal.
Look at it from the Black Mamba’s perspective however, and you see a litany of guys who didn’t truly respect the opportunity they were given to play on a team with a title shot. They either simply lacked the skill to play alongside Bryant, or worse, the drive to try to improve their ability… and succeed.
High expectations? Certainly. Unfair? Maybe. But as Kobe poured in an incredible 60 points in his final effort and rode off into the sunset last season, he did so with one hand completely covered with his five championship rings.
As for that other hand? If Bryant had played with four other Kobe’s, there is no question he would have hardware there too. With that in mind… here are the Top 15 Worst Teammates Kobe Bryant Ever Had
15 Andrew Goudelock, 2011-12 and 2012-13
Who can forget the player who underperformed expectations for a LA Lakers team, in 2012-13, which collapsed internally and failed to win a single game in the playoffs despite being a pre-season favorite to win it all.
Oh, did you think we meant Dwight Howard? No, we were talking about Andrew Goudelock, of course. Nicknamed by Bryant as “Mini Mamba” (no pressure there), Goudelock was a 6’3” point guard coming off a not-halfway-bad rookie season for a second-round pick out the College of Charleston, in which he averaged 4.4 points over 10.5 minutes in 40 games played. Unfortunately his second year, 2012-13. would be his last in a Lakers uniform as he only appeared in one game for six minutes, missing the only two shots he took. He would then spend two years out of the NBA, only to find his way back for a brief stint with the Houston Rockets last year.
Goudelock’s memories of Bryant were pretty typical of a player who failed to live up to Kobe’s high expectations. “One of the weirdest things I experienced when playing with [him] was how he cursed me the hell out in practice and games when I didn’t bring it,” Goudelock said. “Kobe would look straight at me and be like, ‘What the hell are you doing? I can tell you’re not f***ing serious. I could see it in your eyes. I know the difference.’”
14 Bryon Russell, 2003-04
Remember that set-up we did regarding Andrew Goudelock, above? Apply the same logic to Bryon Russell’s single season with the Lakers, in 2003-04, when he happened to be the least heralded of three veterans joining the club that year. The other two? Just future Hall-of-Famers Karl Malone (Russell’s former Utah Jazz teammate for nearly a decade) and Gary Payton.
But let’s not sell Russell’s disappointment short. He arrived with a playoff pedigree from his Jazz years, despite being most known as the player that Michael Jordan maybe/most-definitely pushed-off of to hit a game winning shot to clinch his sixth and final championship in 1998. Russell was sub-par for LA, averaging 4.0 points off the bench over 13 minutes per game, a far cry from the 11 points per game he averaged over his previous six seasons with Utah. He was also a complete non-factor in the Lakers run to the NBA Finals, which they would drop in five to the Detroit Pistons, failing to score a single point over six playoff appearances.
13 Sun Yue, 2008-09
Not a lot went wrong for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008-09 as they claimed their first championship in nearly a decade (and the Black Mamba’s first without Shaquille O’Neal). Things were less successful for the lone rookie on the team, Sun Yue, a second round draft pick out of China, a towering 6’ 9” shooting guard. He appeared in ten of the team’s games for a total of 28 minutes and managed a whopping six points (and four of them were in his debut in December against the Milwaukee Bucks) in his only season in the NBA.
General Manager Mitch Kupchak put it best when the Lakers waived Yue following the season. “With the talent level and depth of our roster,” he pointed out, “the situation simply doesn’t provide an opportunity for Sun Yue to get the chance to play that he deserves.” Still, the fifth Chinese basketball player in NBA history did walk away with a Championship Ring to bring back to his native land. Not bad for 28 minutes of work.
12 Joe Smith, 2010-11
A capable journeyman who lasted 16 seasons in the NBA, Joe Smith played for nearly half of the league’s franchises before finally landing on the Lakers for 12 games and a handful of playoff appearances during the 2010-11 season. His 12th team would be his final one before he retired with career averages of 10.9 points and 6.4 rebounds a game.
Acquired in a three-team trade from the New Jersey Nets for Sasha Vujacic and draft picks heading in both directions, Smith averaged a career low in minutes (3.7) and points (0.5) per game and then failed to score in garbage time in the postseason.
The only notable from Smith’s time with LA was they helped him tie a perhaps record for most teams played for in NBA history, shared with former Lakers Chucky Brown and Jim Jackson, as well as Tony Massenburg.
11 Adam Morrison, 2008-09 and 2009-10
The third overall pick in the 2006 draft for the Charlotte Hornets was sent along with Shannon Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers mid-season in 2008-09, allowing him to enjoy two straight championships to end a short-lived four year career. By the time he arrived, Adam Morrison had already survived a torn ACL that had kept him out for an entire season in 2007-08 and had been worn down from his continued fight of Type 1 diabetes, which he had been diagnosed with at the age of 13. He loved his time in L.A despite being a clear bust for such a high pick, only averaging around two points per each of the only 39 games he appeared in over two years. He particularly loved studying Bryant’s work routine (they grew close enough that he even got an invitation to Kobe's final NBA game).
But then again, former Hornets teammate Jared Dudley had some vivid details to share of what it was like to be the shaggy-haired oddball’s teammate, and we can’t imagine it got much better in LA. “Remember Adam Morrison?,” he asked. “He never took showers, he did the chewing tobacco that he spit all the time, and he wore the same three polos the whole year… he was by far the worst and [most] disgusting.” To each their own, we guess.
10 Devean George, 1999-00-2005-06
Devean George played alongside Kobe Bryant for seven seasons, earning him the perhaps ignominious distinction of being the man who lasted the longest as one of Kobe’s running mates on this list. Fans were often disappointed by George, a talented athlete who failed to average no more than 7.4 points per game in any season despite being the first-ever Division III college basketball player to be drafter in the first round. He even slotted in as a small forward in the only season in his career as a starter in the dream line-up of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton, only to be part of one of the most disappointing “super teams” in NBA history when they lost in the 2003-04 Finals to the Detroit Pistons.
For his part, “there’s a lot of good memories," George said of his time alongside the Black Mamba. "The winning and the locker room with the guys, us joking with each other and laughing.” And the three championships he got along the way? "Gravy on top of the mashed potatoes."
9 Brian Grant, 2004-05
Never was Kobe Bryant more motivated to prove himself than the year after Shaquille O’Neal was traded from Los Angeles to join Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat. Alongside frequent Black Mamba punching bag (but not entirely un-effective player before his ankle-injury in 2006) Chris Mihm and veteran Lakers great Vlade Divac, Brian Grant attempted to allow LA not to miss a beat at the center position in 2004-05 but, perhaps expectedly, failed miserably. The Lakers wound up with their worst record, at 34-48, in what would end up being a 29-year-period between 1994 and 2013.
Starting just eight of the 69 games he appeared in, the ten-year-veteran, who had been a starter for most of his career, served as a constant reminder how little LA had received in return for O’Neal. To add insult to injury, Grant was cut by the Lakers in the off-season only to sign with the Phoenix Suns, who then turned around and helped knock LA out of the playoffs in the first round the very next year.
Thankfully for LA, fellow member of the Shaq-trade-package Lamar Odom stuck around for seven seasons and helped bring Kobe Bryant and company two more titles. So it wasn’t all bad.
8 Isaiah “J.R.” Rider, 2000-01
Starting and starring on three NBA teams prior to his arrival in Los Angeles, 29-year-old J.R. Rider rode in to the Lakers locker room in the prime of his career, and within two seasons was out of the league. He did walk away with a championship ring following 2000-01, but did little to deserve it as he was left off the playoff roster after averaging a disappointing 7.6 points per game (after never having produced less than 13 ppg in any previous year).
So, what happened? ”J.R. was the type of player who wanted to do things his way, and if his way didn't match with the system sometimes there was a conflict," Shaquille O’Neal recalled. Rider, of course, saw it differently. “I am from Cali, I wanted a ring, so I sacrificed. The playoff roster was an egotistical decision made by Phil Jackson that hurt me deep down. It was a ego move because of something that happened at practice.”
Perhaps he is referring to a legendary beat-down in a one-on-one with Kobe Bryant that grew out of Rider’s incessant trash talking, in which he was “absolutely demolished” according to former teammate Brian Shaw. For his part, Kobe laughed, recalling “he tried me. It didn’t work out to well for him. It was bad. It was. It was bad.” Rider played ten more games with Denver the following season before finding himself unable to find a team willing to offer him a contract.
7 Dennis Rodman, 1998-99
Speaking of NBA stars with bad-boy reputations, look no further than the “Worm” as Exhibit A. Unlike J.R. Rider however, Dennis Rodman survived his personality-issues to play 14 seasons, including his penultimate with the Los Angeles Lakers at age 37 in 1998-99. Perhaps it was a case of bad timing, as he appeared in a then-career-low 23 games in the lockout shortened season just before his former Bulls coach Phil Jackson would come on-board to run the team. Rodman, coming off of seven straight seasons leading the league in rebounds, managed “only” 11.2 per game, falling even out of the top-five, unquestionably an off-year by his standards.
The eccentric future Hall-of-Fame forward, who had previously disappeared for eight days for “personal problems” was waived after just seven weeks with the the Lakers after once again showing up late for the team’s practice and being slow getting ready because he couldn’t find his socks or shoes.
6 Karl Malone, 2003-04
To be fair, Karl Malone, an all-time great NBA player and second in career points scored (behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and ahead of, you guessed it, Kobe Bryant), was 40 years old and on his last legs by the time he joined the Los Angeles Lakers for what would be the final season of his storied career in 2003-04. Unfortunately, it resulted in a career low 13.2 points per game in each of the just 42 contests he appeared in. That said, LA was 19-5 before Malone went on the disabled list mid-season and 14-4 when he returned. Unfortunately, his time missed for injury was one of many reasons the team never gelled, and ended up being upset in five games to the Detroit Pistons in the finals.
As Shaq put it, “if Karl doesn’t get hurt, I’d probably still be a Laker to this day”, referring to the blow to team chemistry and attitude that happened as a result. Additionally, Malone is still feuding with Bryant to this day for allegedly making inappropriate comments to Kobe’s wife during the season, charges which he vehemently denies. If true, however, he literally added insult to injury. Perhaps the Hall-of-Famer would have been better off just finishing his career out with the only team he had ever played with, the perennially not-quite-good-enough title contenders, the Utah Jazz.
5 Smush Parker, 2005-06 and 2006-07
William “Smush” Parker was a starter for just two of his five NBA seasons in 2005-06 and 2006-07, and they were both as Kobe Bryant’s running-mate for the “otherwise known as the two worst teams of coach Phil Jackson’s storied 20 year career” LA Lakers. He was such an under-performer, he inspired incredibly harsh words from Kobe, even by Black Mamba standards. “Smush Parker was the worst," Bryant said in a succinct and to the point after-the-fact scouting report. "He shouldn't have been in the NBA, but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard. We let him walk on.”
Parker hardly had good memories of the time either. “He told me one day at practice,” he said in reference to Kobe, “I tried to talk to him outside of basketball, about football. And he looked at me in practice and was dead serious and said, ‘You can’t talk to me. You need more accolades under your belt before you come talk to me.’
4 Metta World Peace, 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2015-16
He arrived to the Lakers as “Ron Artest" but changed his name to Metta World Peace prior to the 2011 season. Unlike his previous moniker, who enjoyed being the starting small forward on the 2009-10 championship team, Metta World Peace showed up to 2011 training camp out of shape prompting new coach Mike Brown called him “heavy” and to move him to the bench. The notoriously prickly World Peace then closed out the season with a suspension after elbowing Oklahoma City guard James Harden in the head, resulting in missing most of a first round series in which the Lakers were stretched to seven games by the Denver Nuggets, returning just in time to join the tired squad in being blown out by the same Thunder in the semis.
Then, as happened to most of the Mike D’Antoni-led super squad the next season, 2012-13, nothing seemed to go right for World Peace. He faced a myriad of injuries and when he came back from a late-season knee surgery in just 12 days, an inspirational recovery that he would later admit was way too soon, he wasn’t the same and even had to miss the final game of the miserable first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. He returned once more to the Lakers in 2015-16, mostly riding the bench as a cheerleader for Bryant’s farewell tour, and has continued with the squad this season at age 37.
3 Kwame Brown, 2005-06-2007-08
Perhaps the biggest #1-overall-pick-of-the-draft-bust in NBA history, the four-year veteran, still only 23 after coming straight out of high school, was gifted a second chance playing alongside Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers beginning in the 2005-06 season. With none other than the legendary Phil Jackson, he of the nine championship rings, returning as coach of the Lakers, Kwame Brown’s arrival had the whiff of a turnaround, and, indeed, the team picked up 11 additional wins in his first year with the squad.
In actuality, he was no worse with LA than any other stop in his 12 year career, but that meant he continued to underperform his immense talent, averaging 8.4 points and 6 rebounds in his BEST season with the team. He was traded in a package for Pau Gasol, who joined with the player Brown backed-up for his final two seasons with the team, Andrew Bynum, to bring two straight championships to LA shortly after his departure. He may have failed to get a ring with LA but he was proud of being part of the lead-up to it, especially in his role in Bynum’s ascension to stardom. “I tell Andrew all the time,” Brown said, “he owes me, 'cause if you can score on me, you can score on anybody.”
While he may have indeed been a decent defender, on offense, as Bryant remembered it, he was a disaster. Kobe recalled a game just before the trade, in which Brown told him “‘Don’t throw it to me.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, well, ‘I’m nervous. If I catch it and they foul me, I won’t make the free throws.’” Not exactly the kind of teammate suited to playing with the Black Mamba.
2 Steve Nash, 2012-13 and 2013-14
After the 2011-12 season, the Los Angeles Lakers completed a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns for Steve Nash. Nash was only swayed to join the Lakers "after a determined push from [Kobe] Bryant,” ESPN’s Marc Stein reported at the time.
Nash played in just 50 games in 2012-13 before the Lakers were swept in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs with Kobe Bryant on the bench with a torn achilles tendon, and managed only fifteen games in 2013-14. He never even made it on the court by the third year of his three-year-contract, battling back and nerve problems and finally announcing his retirement at the end of the 2014-15 season.
The two-time-MVP was a great teammate when healthy during his long and storied career with the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks. And to his credit he left LA a class act, bemoaning what could have been. "I came here with huge hopes and dreams and was incredibly excited and humbled to come here and have the opportunity to come here and play for the Lakers," Nash said. "For it just not to be in the cards, it was a failure and a huge disappointment.”
1 Dwight Howard, 2012-13
Of course, we can’t talk about the failed expectations of the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers without mentioning the biggest bust of that year’s “Big Three,” Dwight Howard.
In his sole year with LA, Kobe Bryant questioned if winning was a top priority for “Superman.” Howard recalled “Kobe put some pressure on me. He said something like, 'We don't have time for Dwight to be hurt.' The media is asking me, 'Did you talk to Kobe about your injuries?' I said, 'I didn't realize I was supposed to check with another player about my health.’” Despite battling problems related to his off-season back surgery and a mid-season torn labrum, Howard finished with strong numbers for the year, to the tune of 17.1 points and a league-leading 12.4 rebounds per game. Still the team barely made the playoffs despite the addition of Steve Nash as well (see above), and Howard unquestionably had his worst season since he had started his run of then seven straight all-star appearances.
"I wanted Kobe and me to work,” Howard recalled. “I just think we were at two different points of our careers.’ As for Laker fans, Howard still holds a “special” place. On a recent trip to the Staples Center he had to be held back from physically confronting hecklers.
Seems like LA values a good work ethic as much as Kobe does. Twenty years of appreciating greatness can do that to a city.
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