Not playing with Kobe Bryant didn’t result in some offensive explosion for the Los Angeles Lakers in their preseason win over the Golden State Warriors, but in the long run, for a team that’s not going to make the playoffs or win anything this season, sitting him as much as possible is the best thing for their developing, talented young players.
The future of the Lakers hinges on a number of players currently on their roster, the high draft pick they’ll receive at the end of this season and the huge free agency haul they can bring in next season, with Bryant’s contract burdening on them. Be it his goodbye from the NBA or just another contract ending before he signs another one (although it’s impossible to imagine him playing in any other jersey), the Lakers need to finish that chapter in their book and turn their backs on it, at least until he’s out of the league.
Overall, are the Lakers sans-Bryant going to finish with a better record? Probably not. Even if they’re going to lose some games because of his ball hogging and tendencies to do too much without including anyone in the process, they’re probably going to get more from him in the short run than anyone else on their bench. But as far as thinking about next season and maybe even building team chemistry, Bryant doesn’t fit what the Lakers can become. He can only get in the way.
Playing or not, Bryant is going to make $25 million this season. You don’t just leave out a player with that kind of salary and ego on the bench unused. But Byron Scott learned from last season, probably. He wisened up, probably. He saw what playing Bryant the kind of minutes Bryant wants leads to. Injury, and the team falling apart. The Lakers might hit the tanking button this season as well at some point, but heading into the season knowing what you want to get out of it in the end makes using Bryant in whatever position they have planned for him slightly redundant.
Julius Randle (finally), Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell. That’s the foundation of what the Lakers need and want to be. Maybe Roy Hibbert, although he’s a free agent at the end of the season, if he’s able to resurrect whatever it is he lost somewhere in Indianapolis. Bryant isn’t part of that long term outlook. The Lakers beat the Warriors 85-70 without him. It’s just the preseason. But it wasn’t so bad without him, was it? If their head coach doesn’t openly hate on his team and seems unwilling to help them win, the process of disconnecting from the most accomplished player in franchise history (not its greatest) could be less painful than foreseen.