With Kobe Bryant set to return sometime in the coming weeks, there is once again sunshine in Lakerland. While Bryant’s return will undoubtedly make the Lakers more competitive, help them win a few more games, and above all, make them far more exciting, it will not put them back into contender status.
Most realistic fans knew coming into this season (including yours truly) knew it would be a wash, and so far it has been. Granted, while we aren’t even a month into the 2013-14 NBA season, there is very little reason to believe or even think the Lakers will be a force to be reckoned with. Steve Nash continues to struggle through injuries, Pau Gasol is often nowhere to be found, and Mike D’Antoni still hasn’t found a rotation that consistently works after almost a full year at the helm. Kobe’s impending return will simply make the Lakers more appealing to a mass audience, but we should expect little more than that. But again, we knew this coming in. It’s just a little harder to digest now that it is a reality, instead of just theory. All that said, there are indeed much brighter days ahead…
Everyone who follows the NBA knows the Lakers have positioned themselves to be MAJOR players in the 2014 free agent market. As of today, they will at most have two players under contract (Steve Nash & Robert Sacre), and the list of free agents could include such names as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and others. Now I’m not going to get into who they should target (it’s been covered enough). No, instead let’s go over what the Lakers front office needs to do going into the free agent season;
1. NEW COACHING STAFF
It’s believed throughout Laker Nation that D’Antoni is coaching on borrowed time. He was brought in by Jim Buss to coach a team that imploded last season. The only reason he is still coaching the Lakers today (I believe) is because management didn’t want to go through the PR nightmare of 2 head coaching changes in one season. He was not fired during the off-season because there was no logistical reason for it, especially when the organization is planning a major over-haul next summer. If they are going to start from scratch, start at the top. D’Antoni was run out of Phoenix and New York, and Los Angeles is next. He is not a well-respected coach, and that is what the Lakers will need to entice free agents.
2. UTILIZE ASSETS
Jim Buss will undoubtedly be heavily involved in the free-agent recruitment process (for better or worse). While his reputation of being a man-child isn’t favorable, his family name still carries with it a legacy and respect. Players will listen to what he has to say, but the bigger factor is him listening to those around him. He has a legendary GM in Mitch Kupchak who has been nothing short of a miracle worker in the past (the Pau Gasol trade), and open offers from other Laker legends such as Phil Jackson and Magic Johnson to help the Lakers in any capacity. They all want what is best for the Lakers, and Buss would be very wise to listen to their input. Better yet, the NBA is dominated now by “super-teams”, I can’t think of a stronger “super” recruitment team. It’s time to bring out the big guns.
3. SECURE THE MAMBA
Kobe Bryant will possibly be part of this upcoming free agent class, though no one expects him to leave the Lakers, and there has been talk of a new contract extension at some point this season. Regardless, no matter his age, his role, or his production, as long as Bryant is on the Lakers roster, they are still his team. That is why it is essential Kobe is on board with the Lakers future plans. Bryant’s opinion, though not the deciding factor, should influence the decision-making process of Buss and management. Bryant has a reputation (possibly well-earned) of being a difficult team-mate. This was evident last season when the Lakers tried to sell Dwight Howard on their future. He and Bryant were never on the same page, and Bryant would not tolerate Howard’s antics on a team that needed to stay focused. Whoever the Lakers target, having Kobe fully on board with it is key.