The word rebuilding doesn’t exist in the universe of the Los Angeles Lakers; it’s always about winning as much as possible as soon as possible, and the hell with player development. The team has a shot at making a clean break from Kobe Bryant and his disastrous hold over the franchise for the last few years, but it probably won’t go down that road.
The Lakers are never thinking about the draft – only free agency. About how next season could go reasonably well if Bryant is healthy, and Gasol is healthy, and Steve Nash is healthy. Which they weren’t last season, and they’ve gotten older by a year. While it’s OK to hope for the best, being pragmatic and reasonable is usually the better approach.
That’s before we talk about Chris Kaman, and Wesley Johnson and Nick Young. All limited player, but for some reason, many expect them to perform way above their current abilities just because they’re wearing a Lakers uniform.
The franchise has been on a decline for the last three seasons. It’s not just the playoff results, but it’s Bryant himself. The team is completely committed to keeping him satisfied and helping him go win that sixth title ring, so he can spread the word that he’s as good as Jordan. A one man ego trip, chasing something a little bit more feasible than a white whale, but under the current conditions just as impossible.
No one is saying the Lakers should tank. It’s impossible to do so with Bryant, Nash and Gasol on the team. But not using the amnesty clause on Kobe Bryant means they’re planning on re-signing him at the end of the season, and Bryant, as long as he has a usually productive (and misleading season), isn’t planning on giving them too much of a discount. The Lakers about the free agents they can attract, instead of the team they can build for many years to come.
There are those who suggest they can move Steve Nash and his overpaying contract. A stat to backup Nash is still quite capable of being an elite point guard? He averaged 18 points and 10 assists per 40 minutes when he wasn’t playing next to Bryant. But the days of Nash playing so many minutes while remaining healthy for around 80 games a season are probably gone. With $19 million left on his deal, Nash is impossible to move.
There wasn’t much the Lakers could have done this offseason, even if they would have used the amnesty clause on Kobe Bryant. But it would have ended the relationship between the franchise and its star and opened the door for a new era. It’s hard to believe Bryant wanting to play next to another uber-dominant player who loves having the ball in his hands. It’s hard to believe LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony will be giving up a lot of money in order to play with Bryant. The Dream Team is probably enough for them, and Bryant is a very different player when he wears the USA uniform.
Instead of thinking about the future, the Lakers are still stuck in the now. Of how to immediately give themselves a chance to be back in contention for a title, instead of thinking about building a team that can make a title run for consecutive years not too far from now. Kobe Bryant is an excellent player, but he’s not a piece you build a championship-team around anymore. Unfortunately, no one sees it that way in Los Angeles.