The NBA is a more interesting place when the Los Angeles Lakers are a good team. The closer Kobe Bryant is to retirement and the closer Byron Scott is to getting fired the sunnier it gets over the golden half of the Staples center, with D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson finding more and more reasons to smile recently.
Remember when Kobe Bryant seemed to have a good stretch? Well that part is long gone. In his last 27 games he is averaging 16.2 points per game, which isn’t too bad for a man his age. But he’s shooting just 35.4% from the field. His shoulder is bothering him, obviously, but he’s been missing shots before his arm was being supported by the best the team trainer could put on him. He has some big nights (the last of them a 38-point performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves), but for the most part, there’s nothing too positive to add about his games.
The Lakers winning back-to-back games is a rare occurrence this season. They didn’t get much help from him in the win over the Warriors, despite ESPN and others plastering images of him with Stephen Curry whenever they could. Trying to make it about some passing of the torch or Bryant getting the best of Curry had no connection with reality. The Lakers won and it had nothing to do with Bryant. Their win against the Orlando Magic was a bit easier to credit to others: He didn’t play.
While it may have been just one game against a bad defensive team, the Lakers looked like they’re having fun. Russell, Randle and Clarkson in the lineup together was something of a glimpse into the future, especially if Byron Scott doesn’t coach past this season. Russell is getting more and more comfortable as an NBA player, and if him and Clarkson, who needs to learn how to play without the ball, can form an understanding in the backcourt, there’s a potential to be special. Randle might be compared a bit too often to Zach Randolph when he could be something completely different, but he’s making up for the lost season with double doubles on a regular basis.
The future of the Lakers has nothing to do with Bryant, even if they keep teaching us to never forget the past. This isn’t politics or war theory 101. This is basketball, when it’s more about the now and the future than what happened before. In fact, hanging on to the past for too long is a big reason why the Lakers are in this place right now. An ex player as the head coach having no business being on the sidelines, and a soon to be ex player who is too old and injured most of the time to be as good as he used to be.
This season is probably going to be the worst in franchise history, or maybe slightly better. But with more games of good time like the win against the Magic and there might be something to feel optimistic about come the offseason. No Bryant to keep away stars, and a chance to actually build a good, solid, balanced team, with some young players as the foundation, finally having a chance to do it without someone frowning behind their backs.