For the Lakers, life isn’t easy without Kobe Bryant. That’s something they haven’t really been able to experience during his tenure with the team. He’s been a luxury that, when playing, has always given the purple and gold a solid chance to have a positive result at the end of the year. When Kobe’s on the court, you have to like the Lakers chances to win, how can you not?
Perhaps the best part of Kobe’s injury (yeah, there are some positives here) was how late it happened in the season. Mid-April is essentially “wrap-it-up” time for most teams. Those who won’t be seeing the playoffs just try to spoil teams on the bubble and at least end their season on a positive note. If you’re the Lakers, you’re vying for a respectable seed in the postseason to make a run at another title, as fans expect every year. With Kobe getting injured, the Lake Show’s chances were shot immediately. Nash was injury prone and Dwight was a lost cause for the year, there was no winning that battle, especially when they had to play the Spurs in the first round.
With Kobe being out, the Lakers have had to find other ways to try to win during the new season with Nick Young, Jodi Meeks, Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson to fill their shooting guard and small forward needs. Surprisingly, the Lakers managed to beat the Clippers on opening night, without Kobe and an electric bench no one really saw coming. Not surprisingly, the Lakers have been wildly bad after that one game, mainly on offense. As it stands right now, you know, 12 games into the season, the Lakers top scorer is Jodi Meeks. Let that sink in for a minute…
Since the opening night win, the Lakers are only 5-7. However, to shed some positive light on those seven losses, five of them came to teams that finished .500 or better last season and are currently .500 or better right now. It’s not like the Lakers can’t contend this season. They’re just struggling against teams that they they’ll be seeing in April and May, pending how the rest of their seasons pan out.
But would it be such a bad thing if the Lakers continued to lose? The franchise is at a point where they need a respectable draft pick that can take the reigns from Kobe since his career’s coming to an end. Management knows that. But how would getting that piece be possible? They can’t wait until Kobe’s career is completely over, it’ll be too late by then and they’ll spend more years recovering that they’d have to pick up that piece now and letting him get used to the job before his expectations rise dramatically. The fault in this is that as long as Kobe is active, the Lakers will never be able to lose enough games to get that high pick. I’m not saying they need to tank, that’s out of the cards as soon as Kobe suits up again. With every loss, comes a little win. Every loss puts them in a better position to have a better pick in the draft, something they desperately need. While Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle are out of the equation, they need to steadily decline enough to have reasonable options after those three are off the board, so they can rebuild properly.
Back to our old problem: What about Kobe? He has to come back strong to uphold his legacy. Granted, he doesn’t have to win another championship to ensure it, he needs to prove that he still has gas in the tank and the ability to rebound like we all know he can. If that happens, where do you really see the losing happening? They’re not favored to make the playoffs with to without Kobe, but with him, they could finish in the middle of the pack, a not-so-favorable position for them heading into the draft. There are choices to make for the Lakers’ front office during the course of this season and it comes down to where they want to finish in the league for draft purposes. Either swallow your pride and endure a tough season or two of losing, or settle for years of mediocrity until you have tradable pieces to obtain players to build around. Either way, it won’t be easy.
Despite all of that, it’s awesome to see Kobe back at practice and nearing his comeback on the court.