Technically Speaking, Kobe Bryant Needs to be Very CarefulKobe Bryant received two technical fouls within 30 seconds in the Lakers' 108-95 home loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday. He was automatically ejected but, much more importantly, he now has 15 technical fouls this season, which means that if he receives just one more technical foul in the next 10 regular season games then he will automatically be suspended for the subsequent game--and if he gets that 16th technical foul in the last game of the regular season then he will be suspended for the first playoff game. If Bryant runs his total to 18 technical fouls in the regular season then he would automatically receive another one game suspension. The count resets once the playoffs begin, so as long as Bryant does not lose his cool in the final regular season game his full participation in the postseason is not in jeopardy--but every regular season game is extremely important in the highly competitive Western Conference and Bryant's previous technical fouls have now potentially placed his team's fate at the whim of a whistle-happy referee.
This could have implications in the MVP race as well. It seems like some voters are looking for reasons to vote for Chris Paul instead of Bryant; Paul has certainly legitimately moved himself into MVP contention with his torrid performance in March to top off an already impressive season and if a Bryant suspension results in a Lakers loss that moves New Orleans permanently ahead of L.A. in the standings that could be the deciding factor in the minds of some MVP voters. Frankly, I think that the way Bryant has carried the Lakers in each of their "three seasons" is a more significant qualification for a season-long award than what happens in one or two late season games but at least some voters will probably cast their ballots based on the playoff seeds that the Lakers and Hornets earn. The Lakers face the Hornets in the third to last game of the season and that game could very well turn into a one game playoff for not only the top seed in the West but also the 2007-08 MVP award. The Lakers will already be shorthanded for that game considering that Andrew Bynum will either be rusty after just returning to the lineup or else out of action altogether and Pau Gasol will also likely be rusty considering his ongoing injury-induced absence. That game could be a real opportunity for Bryant to showcase his talents to the MVP voters in a head to head duel with Paul. If Bryant happens to be suspended for that game it will no doubt cost him MVP votes regardless of the outcome: if the Lakers win without him that will be cited as evidence of the strength of his supporting cast and if the Lakers lose without him then he will be blamed for being suspended.
Excessive technical fouls are not good, whether they are received by Bryant, Rasheed Wallace (the usual leader who has 11 so far this season) or Baron Davis (who also has received 11). Interestingly, Paul is currently tied for fourth in the NBA with 10 technical fouls but unless he goes absolutely crazy in the last few games he will not come close to being suspended. Bryant only had four technical fouls as late as January 12 but he has been piling them up since then. In addition to the possibility of being suspended, Bryant is also setting a bad example for his younger teammates. It is not clear if there is any one reason that Bryant is receiving so many technical fouls all of a sudden but it is very important for both him and the Lakers that he is on his best behavior the rest of the way. Bryant could very well be tested by opposing players who will seek to agitate him in order to push him over the edge; a brief verbal or physical exchange involving Bryant that results in the usually innocuous double technical foul call would now be disastrous. There is also the possibility of a very bizarre scenario: if the Lakers beat the Hornets, win their next game and clinch the top spot at that point would they then sit Bryant out of the last regular season game to ensure that he does not get the one technical foul that would result in him being suspended for the first playoff game?
posted by David Friedman @ 3:58 AM