The NBA is about to begin its regular season, and the Lakers are not exactly expected to contend for their 17th championship. Most prognosticators place the team, featuring a mishmash of aging stars (Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace) and raw youngsters (D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle), near the bottom of the West.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, TNT analyst Charles Barkley, always happy to take a swing at an NBA piñata, offered this take on the Lakers:

“They’re the fourth-best team in California.
“They’re lucky the Sparks ain’t playing [because] they’d be the fifth.”

Ouch. No one thinks the Lakers will be anywhere near as good as the title-contending Warriors and Clippers, and even the annually underwhelming Kings do appear to have a little more going for them (i.e., Boogie Cousins).

But worse than Los Angeles’s WNBA franchise? That’s cold. Especially considering that the Sparks went just 14-20 this season, although that was good enough to make the playoffs in a league that sends eight of its 12 teams to the postseason.

As for Bryant — a.k.a. the Lisa Leslie of the NBA — Barkley offered this opinion (via the Los Angeles Times):

“I hope it’s his last year,” Barkley said. “There’s a reason he keeps getting hurt. His body can’t take the NBA pounding anymore. I just want to remember the great Kobe Bryant. I don’t want him to come out there and play 20, 25 minutes a night and just have, like, a farewell tour.”

Barkley’s amusing candor is definitely among the reasons to get excited for the NBA’s imminent tip-off.