The Los Angeles Lakers don’t want a slow, patient rebuild period, but if they’re going to be more than just good again and contend for NBA titles, it’s going to be only after Kobe Bryant retires, because no franchise-changing player is going to sign with them while he is still around.
The good news? Bryant might be leaving after this season, the last of his two-year contract. The Lakers have a shot at some big name free agents like LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol or Kevin Love. But can they get them? WOuld they want to play for the Lakers knowing that this season isn’t going to be too successful, and knowing that playing next to Bryant isn’t the easiest thing in the world?
The thing about Kobe in the last few years, when he’s actually healthy, is his ability to ignore the fact that he’s just not good enough to carry a team on his back offensively and be any sort of threat on a title. Not even close. Not to mention his defense declining into pitiful form, especially in transition, and if he tries to focus on that end, there isn’t anything left over in his legs for the offense.
And playing next to a player like that, who is so dominant in the locker room and on the floor and means so much (too much) for the franchise he’s been around since 1996, means being emasculated. Now there are varying levels of selfishness and ego-sizes among NBA players, but all of them have it to a certain degree. And just like the Dwight Howard experiment exploded in the Lakers’ face because of Bryant (not that Howard was an innocent bystander in it all), so will any other attempt to bring over a player who expects to be the #1 guy.
Right now, for players hungry to win championships, it makes no sense to join the Lakers. Lets forget about the money for a minute, although staying with your team and making $25-30 million more overall has a huge sway in a decision being made. The Lakers aren’t going to win a championship next season, regardless of who they draft, and how improved Jordan Clarkson will be, if he will be at all once Bryant gets back from his most recent injury. It makes no sense for guys who want to win now.
Sometimes teams make the right decision at the right time, but it rarely happens after two championships. The motion to take apart the aging championship team after the sweep against the Mavericks in 2011 should have been a lot quicker. The Lakers needed to use the amnesty clause on Bryant, no matter who angry his faithful fans around LA would have gotten. It would have been the smart move for the health and immediate future of the franchise. But Bryant remains, and the Lakers overpaid him to stay on for two more years.
In the two years they could have been using for rebuilding, we simply got bad basketball, terrible results and stagnation, without hardly a single step forward towards that better future and once again becoming a force to be reckoned with in the NBA. Because of their blind loyalty to Bryant, the Lakers only now might actually start to improve and move forward, but the real healing won’t begin until he’s no longer part of the team.