The NBA is more interesting when the big franchises do well, which is why the Los Angeles Lakers suddenly looking like a good team, and maybe more importantly a having-fun one, has been a great sight to see, even for non-Lakers fans.
While the Lakers seemed fully committed to letting Byron Scott ruin or halt the development of young players; allowing Kobe Bryant to do whatever he wants in his final NBA season, it’s difficult to say if that was a good path to take. In hindsight, Bryant’s retirement tour was an even bigger megalomaniac feature compared to the way Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett left a league they were just as important to and perhaps even more than Bryant (even thought they were never as popular as him).
What’s changed this season, besides the Lakers winning games (6-5, currently 8th in the West)? Players are smiling. The ball is moving. D’Angelo Russell is finally in a place to show how good of a point guard he is. He and Jordan Clarkson aren’t stepping on each others toes with Clarkson coming off the bench next to Lou Williams. Nick Young is born again after it looked like his NBA career was practically over under Scott and next to Bryant. Julius Randle is playing smart, efficient basketball, showing he’s much more than a bruiser in the paint, with some fantastic vision and passing to go with his developing game.
Luke Walton is probably the perfect head coach to lift this team from the depressing state it was in just before Bryant retired. He hasn’t been retired for that long, had his internship as a head coach in a very successful environment so he probably knows how to handle egos, and from the stories we hear, is connecting extremely well with the very young team the Lakers have. Having fun isn’t everything; playing good basketball is. But sometimes, having fun leads to the good basketball a lot quicker than whatever it was the Lakers were trying to do after firing Mike D’Antoni.
Obviously, the Lakers were tanking for quite some time, giving Scott the role only strengthens that hypothesis. But there’s more to tanking than just losing on purpose. It’s about adding talent along the way and developing it. And that is where the whole Scott-Bryant coalition comes into play. Scott has no clue in developing young players. Not in rotating them, giving them minutes, confidence, advice or anything like that. His incompetence and unsuitability for the job was easy to see in the season before, especially in the way he handled Jeremy Lin and destroyed the confidence of Nick Young, who has the maturity of a high school freshman but talent that can be made into something, at least in the right hands.
And then there’s Bryant. A player who won’t allow anything to grow next to him. Who frowned during a talk show while seeing his teammates celebrate a meaningless game. Maybe the Lakers not signing Dwight Howard in 2013 on a long term deal was a blessing in disguise, but Bryant is the #1 reason Howard never really established himself in Los Angeles. Bryant is the reason the Lakers couldn’t compete for premier free agents, and slowly sank in the ranking of desirable places to go to for the best players in the league.
“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea“. This quote can be taken in a number of ways, but in its root, it’s the description of a selfish person. And Bryant’s last season was about him having his retirement tour, and f*** everyone else, including the team. Now he’s gone, it’s as if someone did a little bit of exorcism on the dressing room. It might take some time for the Lakers to be truly free of Bryant’s later legacy, but they already seem to be forgetting very quickly about somebody that they used to know, and are happy isn’t coming back, along with his enabling coach, who is probably done coaching in this league.