Absolute chaos has ensued this summer for the Lakers. The transcendent superstar guard is rehabilitating from a torn Achilles, the dynamic rim-protecting big man fled to Houston, and the eccentric and impassioned small forward was waived for monetary reasons. Desperate for a spark, the executives behind the purple and gold have signed Chris Kaman, a defensively deficient center; Nick Young, an offensive black hole who doesn’t know that passing is an option; Jordan Farmar, who’s over a year removed from seeing the hardwood in an NBA game; and Wes Johnson, a once promising prospect from Syracuse whose career thus far has busted worse than the stock exchange in the fall of 1929.
It’s fair to say that things seem to be looking pretty bleak in the Staples Center this year–at least on the nights that Jack Nicholson is sitting court-side.
Legitimate cries from the media and even some fans are calling for the Lakers to tank for a season, especially with the upcoming 2014 draft class which is projected to be one of the most talented draft classes in NBA history. For most teams this is the politically correct option. With a roster slipping into middle age and a defense with more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese, the logical solution is to rebuild for the future and try their luck in the draft for a few years. Build a franchise following the footsteps of the Oklahoma City Thunder or the San Antonio Spurs.
The problem with this is that the guy wearing number 24 will refuse to let this happen. Desperate for the historically-crucial sixth championship ring, the Black Mamba will be putting all his cards on the table. He has the persistence and determination unlike anyone I’ve ever seen and even with the worst of rosters, he’d find a way to will the team to at least 35 wins, too successful a season to expect to land a franchise player in the draft. Just look at the 2005-06 season. Smush Parker, Brian Cook, Chris Mihm, and Kwame Brown all started more than half of the games that season. Kobe Bryant utterly lifted the team on his shoulders. Behind the highest usage percentage in NBA history, he took that team to a 7 seed in the west with 45 wins on the year. The Kobe of today is eight years older than the Kobe of then, but the mentality is the same. It’s simply not in his nature to tank. The guy’s a winner. No matter how grim the prospects of a championship appear, this man’s not going down without a fight.
With reports that Bryant’s rehab sessions are going extraordinarily (Chris Douglas-Roberts even claimed he was three months ahead of schedule, although other sources quickly smothered his claim), he can be expected to play nearly a whole season. Can you really picture a team with Bryant on it in the basement of the western conference standings? I certainly can’t. The front office may want to tank, but as long as the Mamba is getting 40 minutes a game, it’ll be one dysfunctional tank.