If the problems within the Lakers organization weren’t evident last summer – when Dwight Howard became the first superstar in his prime to leave the franchise – then its inability to attract a superstar in his prime this summer served further notice. Kobe Bryant’s salary-cap hogging deal made it impossible for the Lakers to complete a dream scenario in which Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James took over Tinseltown.
Anthony met with the Lakers and considered joining Bryant, one of his biggest mentors in the league, but the instability with Jim Buss at the helm and the absence of a coach has made the league’s most glamorous franchise a place where big-name talents don’t want to be right now. James and Chris Bosh were never seriously in play and even second tier perimeter players like Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons weren’t in the picture, either.
During his miserable season in Los Angeles in 2012-13, Howard clashed with Bryant, who didn’t want to share the marquee with a player lacking his accomplished resume despite his declining skills. Bryant turns 36 in August and has a long road back after playing just six games last season as he recovered from a ruptured Achilles and then suffered a serious knee injury.
In his 19th season, Bryant still won’t be looking to defer, though no one knows for sure how effective he will be after missing so much time. He is the ornery type whose immense confidence helps compensate for anything he has lost within his physical abilities. But it’s what he’s lost around him that he isn’t likely to overcome.
Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher have teamed up to lead the New York Knicks and Pau Gasol, after dealing with rampant trade rumors for nearly three years, decided to leave this summer to join the Chicago Bulls.
So, what did the Lakers wind up doing this summer in free agency to help Bryant sustain his chase for a sixth ring? They grossly overpaid Jordan Hill, gave Nick Young a four-year deal and traded for Jeremy Lin. The latter move comes, oddly enough, after they dismissed the man behind Linsanity, Mike D’Antoni.
The Lakers are coming off the worst regular season in decades and their first lottery appearance since 2005, when they drafted Andrew Bynum 10th overall. That offseason, the Lakers brought Jackson out of retirement and finished their season one win from a huge first-round upset of Phoenix. Last month, the Lakers drafted Julius Randle seventh overall and while he has tons of the potential, he won’t rescue the Lakers as a rookie. And Jackson is not coming back to save the team after it chose D’Antoni over him in 2012.
With Lionel Hollins taking over in Brooklyn, former Laker Byron Scott – who won a few championships with the organization and has a solid relationship with Bryant – would appear to be the front runner for the vacant coaching job. But the Lakers still don’t seem to be in a rush with training camp less than three months away. And which direction the team takes after that hire is still very much an open question.