Kobe Bryant’s rookie year ended in defeat for the Los Angeles Lakers. After a closely matched series with the Portland Trail Blazers—even if the 3-1 game tally doesn’t reveal it—the L.A. team went up against the Stockton-Malone-led Utah Jazz, and got creamed.
As all NBA diehards know, the Lakers franchise tends to recover quickly from loss. Almost as quickly as Kobe’s reptilian body recovers from injury. Only once have they failed to make the playoffs after missing them the year prior (the seasons of 1974-75 and 1975-76). And in their 65-year history, which includes their vintage days as the Minneapolis Lakers, they’ve failed to make it to the postseason only five times. Five times. That’s a 92% success rate.
According to all projections, they won’t make it again this season. But, most importantly, this will be the worst team Kobe Bryant has ever been on. In fact, for the sake of the franchise, Lakers fans should expect as much.
Record wise, the worst team up to this juncture that the Black Mamba has played on is the Chris Mihn-plagued 2004-05 squad that lost their head coach to health concerns, and like this year, had Kobe battling an ankle injury. But you can make a case that the 2006-07 team featuring Smush Parker and Kwame Brown, known to Bryant as snake feed, or even last year’s circus troupe with Dwight Howard as its main attraction, was worse.
But it only makes sense for the Lakers organization to exceed all expectations of projected crappiness by outdoing the past failures of Kobe-accessorized rosters.
The writing is on wall—and on many parts of the internet. Just look at their salaries. Everyone, including Mr. Bryant, could very well not be back next year. As it stands, only Steve Nash and Robert Sacre have guaranteed monies in 2014-15. Everyone else can be cut loose since they’ll become unrestricted free agents, or, in the case of Nick Young and Elias Harris, have non-guaranteed salaries come next year.
Just signing Young and Wesley Johnson, two notorious team “hopscotchers,” should prove to fans how serious the Lakers are in competing this year.
With Bryant’s underappreciated―even by his own hand―facilitating, the Lakers were still blown out in many games last year. Losing Dwight, no matter how much he might have been hated, will only further cripple their 22nd-ranked defense. Not to mention what it will do to one of their strong points: rebounding. Now imagine what their assist numbers, already at 17th, will be like with Nick Young, Chris Kaman, and Jodie Meeks playing together. With Bryant on the court it might get better, but the Lakers don’t have much to work with anyway.
As a sign of respect and loyalty, given all that he’s given the franchise, the Lakers should re-sign The Bean. But, save for a huge paycut, won’t have the wiggle room to do much with him at 36 years old, possibly still dealing with torn Achilles heel complications, and further removed from the height of his physical powers (which tends to warp the minds of ex-stars).
Even if they can somehow lure LeBron to the West Coast, there’s a strong possibility that with Nash, Bryant, and James the tax cap could be reached with their paydays alone. Not exactly how you build a contender (you know, because unlike with the similar Heat scenario, James would be flanked by two former stars who are 76 years old collectively). So, really, they might have to tank badly, to pick up a bright star in a padded draft, and keep their books cleared to lure big free agents like James or Melo, who is probably the likelier recruit.
Kobe won’t have any of the media’s fear mongering, that says they’ll be 12th in Western Conference, but the fact is that fans should expect some scary stuff from them. Like losses to the Bobcats. In all likelihood, this will be the worst team Kobe’s ever played on.