The Los Angeles Lakers like to distinguish themselves from the rest of the NBA, by never thinking about taking a “year-off” in order to better prepare for the future. It’s always about the now, and nothing else. Kobe Bryant is perfect for the team in that respect, but his inability to change might be holding them back.
Bryant isn’t yet cleared to be playing on opening night for the Lakers, although he’s training hard, probably harder than what the Lakers would like him to be, preparing for the new season. Bryant, which is no surprise to anyone, expects a lot from himself, from his teammates and from the team in general, despite the not-too-promising early conditions.
One of the things that should be worrying the Lakers is their devotion to the player, partially due to the fan base asking for that (although Lakers fan, similar to most fan bases and even more so than the rest, can be quite fickle), even when his expiring contract might mean one of the greatest exit strategies for the team from a situation in which they have a talented, all-time great player, who isn’t worth the money and the trouble anymore.
Mitch Kupchak, someone who knows a thing or two about Kobe Bryant, had a few interesting things to say about the player, which might shed some light about where the Lakers are going with this, and where they should be.
- Kobe is not going to play to lure somebody to Los Angeles. He’s going to play to win games. If the way he plays helps lure players to Los Angeles, then so be it. In January, February and March, that’s not what he’s thinking when there’s a game being played.
- With Kobe, you just try to manage who he is the best you can; you’re not going to change who Kobe is. He’s mellowed a bit, but during a game, he’s tough to manage. He’s cut a little bit differently, so that’s not going to change. The best Mike can hope for is to get to know Kobe better and maybe figure out a way to manage it as best he can. I think that’s Mike’s best chance. No coach has been able to control Kobe. No coach we’ve had since 1996, and that’s not going to change.
The Lakers are planning on re-signing Bryant once the season is over, although he has mentioned there will be no home town discount. If he’s still playing at a very high level, he wants to be paid like that. Bryant probably isn’t thinking about going anywhere else, but things change. He has turned on head coaches, and Mike D’Antoni doesn’t have any kind of immunity, or control over how Bryant’s season will turn out.
Bryant needs quality players around him. Big-name free agents, who are available, at least a few, next season. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony. The two biggest names on that list, if they opt out of their deals. The Lakers like to think they’re one huge draw, but James and Anthony won’t opt out of their deals for the Lakers’ sake. It’ll only happen if their chances of winning an NBA title evaporates with their current teams.
Bryant is the only thing standing between the Lakers and a guaranteed lottery pick. He isn’t going to like playing on a losing team, and he might be good enough, along with Pau Gasol and a falling-apart Steve Nash, to do something about it. Unfortunately, it might not be the best thing for the Lakers when they try and look beyond what happens this season.