The Los Angeles Lakers know; the whole world knows. It was a mistake re-signing Kobe Bryant on a two year deal, especially for the sum he’s being paid. But one more year and the hold he has over the franchise which has been suffocating it for years will be over.
Bryant has one more season left on his current deal. Still the highest paid player in the league. Still the same ego. The Lakers are trying to rebuild, but maybe for the first time in almost 20 years, they envision a future that has nothing to do with Bryant in it.
We’re not going to pick a player because he can play with Kobe, likes Kobe or dislikes Kobe. We’re going to pick the player that can have the longest and best career.
Let these words by general manager Mitch Kupchak resonate. The Lakers aren’t saying it out loud, but they’re pretty much finally admitting that the age of Kobe Bryant is over. He has one more season left on his contract, and that’s it. No one is going to renew it this time, or maybe Bryant has already indicated that it’s over for him. Despite his dreams of a sixth NBA ring with the Lakers, so he can be like Mike, Bryant knows it’s going to take a while before the Lakers are contenders again.
The future? It’ll revolve around Julius Randle, if he bounces back well from his injury. Jordan Clarkson, who hopefully won’t have Kobe Bryant getting in his way too much this season (which is hard to believe). And whoever the Lakers pick in this draft. Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell, or maybe someone else. It doesn’t matter. The foundation is young, and it doesn’t have the name Bryant in it.
For years it’s been speculated how much of an influence Bryant has behind the scenes. Kupchak obviously wants to make it seem like there’s no way a player is intervening with management choices, as powerful and popular as he might be. But Bryant obviously held more power and sway than your regular All-Star, and the older he got, the worse his presence and hold, direct or indirect, on the team got to be.
Bryant hasn’t played much over the last two years, and this season Byron Scott knows that his body can’t handle too much of a burden. Less minutes, more rest, and maybe this time he’ll actually finish a season and won’t get shut down very early on. Bryant hasn’t said that it is his last season, but for the Lakers’ sake it better be. For Bryant’s as well. It’s unlikely he’ll ever know how to take the backseat and become a role player with a limited influence on what goes on the floor. Seeing him trying to hold on to greatness that has already faded away tarnishes the memory, and the way he’ll be remembered.