Apr 21 2014, 10:28pm CDT | by Forbes
Ain’t no sunshine any more in Lakerdom, as rebuilding drags into its second season.
Kobe Bryant was in Paris (the one in France) when his teammates were in El Segundo (the one next to Los Angeles) for exit interviews. He had a migraine headache six days before when he was supposed to go out and thank everyone for their support on Fan Night.
For those suspicious of one, much less two coincidences, Kobe’s people acknowledge that he is, indeed, “frustrated” with the Lakers, that being the word everyone in sports uses for “angry.”
Bryant, who’s pouring his keen powers of observation, not to mention his inclination toward obsession, into the draft, reportedly wondered why the Lakers had to win their last two games, leaving them 27-55 with the No. 6 pick going into the lottery, rather than 26-56 with a coin flip with Utah for No. 5. Of course, the team had yet to win either of those games when Bryant had his migraine so his “frustration” may go beyond that after tying himself to the Lakers for two more seasons through age 38.
This goes under the heading of “Are we still rebuilding?” as Bryant and Laker fans awaken to the fact that no turnaround is imminent. Their No. 1 pick looks like it will be a non-elite prospect from a disappointing draft class… with no superstar free agents like Miami’s LeBron James and New York’s Carmelo Anthony looking like they’ll go anywhere… and Laker management obliged to fill out its roster with players who’ll take one-year deals to preserve cap space for 2015 and 2016.
In a best-case scenario, with Pau Gasol back on a one-year deal and Bryant and Steve Nash missing 30 games instead of this season’s 147, the Lakers could go 41-41 or even 45-37… which would be unlikely to get them into the playoffs.
The dream scenarios are hitting the lottery for a healthy Joel Embiid, or trading their No. 1 pick to Minnesota for Kevin Love. The Lakers will certainly make the offer; the Timberwolves might even go for it if Love, who’s widely suspected of wanting to join the Lakes, tells the Wolves that he’ll walk when his contract runs out in 2015, otherwise.
In the part that everyone, including Bryant, has missed in the depression that settled in after the Knicks hired Phil Jackson, Laker management has a sound plan. It will just take a lot of time—two summers after this.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, years of glory as the marquee team of the post-Bill Russell era with 11 titles to six for runners-up Chicago and Boston, have done what they always do, spoiled everyone rotten.
Jim has, in fact, made mistakes, starting with re-signing Bryant for two years at $48.5 milion before Kobe showed he could stay healthy… but that was done in tandem with Jim’s non-controversial sister, Jeanie.
Hiring D’Antoni after seeming to signal it would be Jackson, wasn’t too swift, either… but Jim didn’t do it. Paterfamilias Jerry Buss was still in charge for that one from his hospital room at Cedars of Sinai, hoping to re-enact the birth of his “Showtime” vision with his first draft pick, Magic Johnson, in 1979.
Unfortunately, there’s no savior about to rescue the franchise from the clowns now in charge. The grim facts are:
–Incompetence didn’t doom the Lakers. Inevitablity did. While winning five titles in 11 seasons from 2000-2010, they grew old.<</p>
–Hiring Jackson wouldn’t have saved them. He was, indeed, the right man with his credibility among the fans, the sense of assurance he projected and his offense, which works with two centers as opposed to D’Antoni’s… but Phil was only going to finish out the 2012-13 season.
Dwight Howard preferred Jackson to D’Antoni but wouldn’t have been any likelier to stay last spring with Bryant going down and Phil leaving./>/>
–Trading for Howard wasn’t a mistake… or, if it was, it was one anyone would have made.
The glory that was the Lakers was built on other teams’ superstar centers, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. Who knew Howard was different enough to take $30 million less than the Lakers would offer to get away from them?
–Trading for Nash wasn’t a mistake but a calculated risk, based on their shot at a title in an instant turnaround with Howard. Everyone thought the same thing when they got Howard and Nash. In an ESPN pre-season poll, 37 of its 45 writers picked the Lakers to win the West.
–Writing off next season… or limiting the resources they put into it, as they did this season… is the right thing to do. Plunging into a challenging tomorrow in the hope of reaching a better “day after,” or “next week,” ownership just extended GM Mitch Kupchak’s contract.
That’s biting the bullet. If it doesn’t dovetail with Bryant’s agenda, he’ll have to make do, or wipe out seven years of personal growth since 2007, when he excoriated Jerry Buss, demanding to be traded. Instead, they hung onto him long enough to pull off the miraculous 2007-08 season, in which Kobe won his only MVP and they made the first of three Finals in a row, winning in 2009 and 2010.
In the good (?) news for Bryant and Laker fans, they have only just begun. Long-running marquee teams are built by organizations that pull off “miracles’ regularly, like the great Laker turnaround in the ’90s from Magic Johnson’s retirement in 1991 to the arrival of Shaq and Kobe within a week of each other.
That took five years from Magic’s announcement he was HIV-positive in 1991 to GM Jerry West’s coup of coups in the summer of 1996. They’re only two years into this project. In the meantime, Bryant and the fans can console themselves with the knowledge that beleagured Laker management can still face to grim reality… so far.
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