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Everyone is Still Trying. Trust Us.
It’s no secret the Lakers are in a world of hurt. The season isn’t even a month old and already fans are angry and questioning their motives. Tanking…already? They haven’t even played 20 games yet and people are talking about tanking. That type of talk is usually reserved for March and April. The fact that it’s being talked about openly is an ominous sign. And that is above and beyond recent reports that Kobe is forgoing any attempt at team ball and instead performing his one-man show routine until he can pass Michael Jordan for 3rd on the all-time scoring list. Yes, these are trying times for the purple and gold. But it didn’t have to be this way.
What happened, the Lakers used to be dominant? As bad as things seem, they didn’t have to be that way. The team never used to have trouble attracting top level talent. The Lakers front office knew they were going to need help for Kobe if they wanted to make a playoff run and they tried to get someone in the offseason, but that didn’t work out too well. ESPN magazine ran an article in its October issue detailing how most star players in the NBA don’t want to play with Kobe. They went so far as to say that many anonymous team officials believe any real effort at rebuilding will have to wait until after Bryant retires.
The team has tried to help Kobe, really they have, but they can’t do it alone. Insiders refer to Bryant as ‘sabotaging’ any efforts to build around him with talent. Alleged incidents include;
· When the Lakers were trying to re-sign Dwight Howard in 2013, Kobe showed up to the team's meeting with him in gym clothes and proceeded to lecture Howard about what it takes to win. Howard ended up signing with Houston for $30 million less than he would have gotten with the Lakers.
· Kobe missed the team's meeting with Carmelo Anthony in the summer of 2014 because he flew to Europe. Anthony ended up staying with the Knicks.
· The team asked Kobe to call Steve Nash and talk about playing together when the Lakers were trying to trade for him in 2012. Kobe never called him because he wanted Nash to be the one to have to make the call.
· Paul George re-signed with the Pacers instead of entering free agency and potentially signing with the Lakers because "he was turned off by the thought that Bryant would police his efforts."
Few companies in the world have to deal with the level of competition that NBA teams do. Imagine if every single time your company went up against a competitor it was one of the top 30 in the world. And those 30 companies were composed from the best 400 employees in the world. That’s the NBA. That’s why winning and losing is separated by so little.
Historically, the Lakers have always been able to rely on superstar players wanting to live in Los Angeles and play for the Lakers. But since 2011 they've been unable to sign big free agents. They missed on Howard, Anthony, Chris Bosh, and didn't even get a meeting with LeBron James this summer. They also weren't a part of the Kevin Love trade sweepstakes.
Be that as it may, the team finds itself where it is now. We can debate whether they should have parted ways with Bryant earlier, how they should have never allowed a no trade clause in his contract, or even treating him differently earlier in his career with the hope that it would never come to this. However, all that speculation is only good for devising a plan in the future. The present situation is only concerned with how to navigate with and around Kobe, usually in spite of him. As one NBA agent put it,
"Kobe is like the big rock in their front yard," says an agent who has had a Lakers client in recent years. "You can't mow over it, so you just have to mow around it."
Where Does That Leave Them
Offensively the team isn’t that bad. One of the overall best measures of a teams offensive production, Offensive Efficiency, has the Lakers 16th overall, but not the same can be said for the defense. They rank 30th overall, dead last. The head coach, Byron Scott, knows that in a league of high-priced superstars and guaranteed contracts the most expendable man on the court never takes a shot…the coach. Scott recently benched Jeremy Lin in an attempt to shake things up. Lin, who is averaging only 11.7 PPG and 4.4 assists was benched for the majority of the loss to Golden State after starting 0-2 in shooting during 22 minutes of action. Scott appears to be losing his patience and Linsanity may be drawing to a close.
In his defense, Scott never planned on having Lin run the offense, that job was supposed to belong to Steve Nash, but an injury in the preseason changed all that. And trading away Lin has two potential hurdles; his $8M price tag and the aforementioned issue of who they get in return that wants to actually be there…with Kobe. Fans won’t tolerate losing for too much longer, this isn’t the Clippers after all. People love the Lakers and they expect them to win.
But it won’t take too long for the issue to be bigger than just the basketball that’s played on the court. In a league where teams are bought and sold for billions of dollars, we have to take the economics of the situation into account. The Lakers can make up to $150 million annually from their local TV, but according to one of Abbott's sources, the final amount hinges upon ratings. Kobe Bryant alone is enough to keep a lot of fans watching a bad team, but for how long? It's also important to note that the team is the source of Buss's wealth; the Lakers don't have an owner who can cover losses with personal billions.
Tough spot to be in for the Lakers front office. Brutal for the fans.