Last month, The Post’s Fancy Stats guru Neil Greenberg delivered some sobering news to the floundering Los Angeles Lakers: Namely, that they’ll continue to be terrible until they drastically cut Kobe Bryant’s minutes.
And while Bryant’s numbers have gotten a little better since then — he’s now scoring 91 points per 100 possessions, up from 88 when Greenberg published his post — the Lakers still stink. But seeing as how it’s Bryant’s last season, they’re just going to keep trotting him out there for old time’s sake or one last lap around the NBA or something. It’s certainly not because they think playing Bryant will make the team better. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite.
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak all but admitted that the team has a Kobe problem to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes:
Although the season isn’t over, the Lakers sit at 8-28, and general manager Mitch Kupchak told ESPN that this season is about Bryant, and any other plans to more frequently feature their younger core are on hold until he is gone.
“Under normal circumstances [in a season like this], at some point, you would probably concentrate on just developing all your young players,” Kupchak told ESPN on Tuesday. “But we can’t do that right now.
“This [season] is really a justified farewell to perhaps the best player in franchise history. And, God willing, he’s going to want to play every game and he’s going to want to play a lot of minutes in every game, because that’s just the way he is.
“And as long as that continues, which it should, then that’s 30-35 minutes that you might give to a young player that you can’t. How do you get a feel for your team going forward when you know that your best player is not going to be there next year? So it’s really hard to go forward until he’s no longer here.”
What this means is that younger players such as D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. will see their minutes continue to fluctuate depending on how much Bryant wants to play that night. This hardly seems ideal for a team that, in Kupchak’s eyes, could have been a 40- or 45-win squad or, alternately, could be giving those younger players as many minutes as possible to give them valuable experience. But hey, it is what it is.
No really, Kupchak said “it is what it is”:
“But where we stand today, it looks like we’re not going to meet that benchmark. So, in some regards, I’m disappointed with where we are today, but it is what it is. Kobe’s made a decision. He can’t play every game. He wants to play every game. We have to figure out a way when he does play to play with him, get him the minutes that he wants, get him ready for the next game, hope he plays the next game, and if he doesn’t, we have to get our lineup in such a way that we can compete and develop the young players. It’s not a perfect scenario, but there’s no way to plan this. There just isn’t.”
Bryant’s presence also hurt the Lakers’ ability to attract top free agents last summer. Kupchak admitted that, too:
“At the end of the day, last summer, we were trying to sell to free agents — ‘Come to LA, we have plenty of cap room, we have the No. 2 draft pick, we have a player we drafted No. 7 [overall] who didn’t play this year who we think is going to be a heck of a player, and we’ve got Kobe, who is going to turn 36,'” Kupchak said. “That was our pitch. And that’s a tough pitch to a veteran free agent. A veteran free agent really needs to hear more than that, especially if he’s giving up a lot of money. He needs to see more of a core than the No. 2 pick, whom he may not even know who he is, and a player that got hurt in the first game of the season, and the rest of the guys that we had on the team and Kobe who hadn’t played in two years. That’s a tough pitch to a free agent. It really is.”
The Lakers have 46 games left and — barring injuries — Bryant will probably play in 75 percent of them. Then he’ll retire, and then the Lakers will get another lottery pick, and then they can finally start trying to get better with the players who actually might be around a few years from now.