If you were hoping Kobe Bryant would end his career on top of the basketball universe, don’t hold your breath. It’s never a good sign when the season is roughly a month old and a team is already being linked to highly-touted prospects at the collegiate level in the upcoming draft.
Impeded by years of front office incompetence, terrible coaching schemes/philosophies and unwatchable groups taking the floor at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Lakers are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season. This is unchartered territory, as it’ll be the first time this has ever happened in the franchise’s history.
Bryant isn’t absolved of blame here. His final season in purple and gold isn’t tantamount to one riding off into the sunset. He’s playing undoubtedly the worst basketball of his career at the age of 37 after coming off three consecutive season-ending injuries.
The combination of his trigger-happiness and lack of efficiency has led some to assert that the five-time champion should have his role reduced to benchwarmer…that’s not happening. But what seems more feasible is having the man who calls himself the head coach actually act like one.
The Lakers are going nowhere fast. With life without the Black Mamba being imminent, it’s incumbent upon them to do everything in their power to hold on for dear life to that top three protected pick in the first round of next year’s draft. This means turning over the reins to the young guys, even if it means games aren’t competitive.
After their latest loss at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles has now dropped to just 3-16 on the season. To put that into perspective, that’s more games than the defending champs lost all of last season (and they might not even get to that number this year). So the question becomes, why isn’t Byron Scott doing all he can to develop the young players?
D’Angelo Russell was taken with the No. 2 overall pick last year, and his superb freshman campaign at Ohio State had (and still has) many excited for his potential. In the previous draft, Julius Randle went No. 7 overall. He drew comparisons to Zach Randolph, and with the history of great big men in Lakers history, that song played beautifully on the heart-strings of the fans.
Jordan Clarkson emerged out of nowhere as a second-round pick, and for the last two seasons, he’s been the Lakers’ best player. He’s started all 19 games and has averaged 15.9 points (second-leading scorer) on 47 percent shooting this year.
In 29 minutes against the Hawks, he was 5-of-8 with 13 points. But somehow that wasn’t good enough to play in the fourth quarter of a close game. Russell has also been benched numerous times this year. And though Randle has performed well at times, there’s still a need to get him more involved.
As previously mentioned, the Lakers’ biggest win this year would be to lose as much as possible, but it’s pretty unfathomable that Scott continues to bench young players when the goal should be to develop them.
The Lakers have been in this cycle for far too long with bad coaches. Every time they replace the one at the helm, it seems to precipitously get worse. If the team is in search of greener pastures in the post-Kobe era, all signs point to the confused guy calling himself the head coach getting a pink slip.
This doesn’t feel like a 3-16 roster. There’s talent on the team, but Scott just hasn’t shown he’s capable of maximizing the talent and galvanizing the group. No, they’re not playoff material, but they shouldn’t have gone down in history as the team that lost to the 0-18 Sixers.
The Lakers’ offense is like a free-for-all. No offensive sets are run. Teams essentially don’t have to play defense because it’s not necessary. And it looks like the Lakers feel they have that same luxury; their defense is atrocious.
Free agents can’t look at this situation and call Los Angeles an attractive destination. It’s a huge mess. And while the critics are saying “Thank God” Bryant is retiring, the period that follows doesn’t look too promising the way things are presently constructed.