Here’s the scene: The Lakers once again find themselves in a tough, close game with one of the NBA’s best teams and are in this situation because Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma or Lonzo Ball has provided the latest display of the talent that has a fan base as excited as they’ve been in half a decade.
They win the game, and in this hypothetical, let’s say it’s on a Brandon Ingram game-winner. The kids go crazy. They’re figuring things out. The Lakers might’ve finally turned a corner.
First question after the game, from one of the several journalists on the Lakers’ payroll:
Reporter: “Brandon, did Mamba Mentality help you make that shot?”
Ingram: “Uhhh…” *gets cattle prodded* “YEAH. Yeah. Of course. Of course.”
Next question, from another of the several journalists on the Lakers’ payroll:
Reporter Number Two: “Kyle, how did your time alongside Kobe teach you about harnessing the powers of the deadliest snake native to sub-Saharan Africa?”
Number Two, now holding a snake emoji amulet: “DID YOU MAKE THAT SHOT AS A PRAYER TO THE ALTER OF KOBE?! *indistinct ramblings* *hissssssssss*”
Kuzma: “I, umm… I never played with Ko-… *Rob Pelinka hits Kuzma with an eraser and holds up a ‘stick to the script’ sign* … I mean yeah totally Kobe’s the man. I love Kobe. Kobe is my hero. All praise be to Kobe. In Kobe’s name, amen.”
Number Two: Much better.
Next question, from an actual journalist:
Reporter Three: “Julius, you players 2 total minutes tonight, yet were a plus-81 in those two minutes. Did you specifically target that number as a tribute to the one season you spent alongside The Black Mamba?”
Randle: “I think the larger story is that maybe I should play more, but go with whatever story you want. They’re trading me in a month anyway.”
The Lakers boast arguably the strongest brand in American professional sport and built it on the backs of several historically great players and coaches, yet are held hostage by Kobe, whose final few years of his career marked the lowest points the Lakers have ever reached.
Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were fired over it, yet Kobe, whose albatross of a post-achilles-tear contract and subsequent farewell tour played a major role in those dark times, continues to be fawned over, like the deadbeat dad the family wishes would just come home.
Watch any appearance on Spectrum SportsNet featuring Kobe. It’s no coincidence a channel watched closely by the Lakers would repeatedly ask if Bryant would ever consider coming back to help Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka (whose employment can be traced directly back to his relationship with Bryant, by the way) run the organization.
The Lakers need to move on and will continue to trip over themselves until they do. And the most frustrating part: The pieces to do so are right freakin’ there.
Lonzo Ball has overcome some of the dumbest coverage a rookie season has ever produced and looks to be, at the very least, a very good NBA player as he develops.
Brandon Ingram has completely flipped the script from his up-and-down rookie season and is producing one of the best sophomore seasons the NBA has ever seen from someone his age.
Julius Randle completely transformed his body this offseason and could very easily grow to become one of the NBA’s more impactful defenders. And instead of getting ready to reward him for that hard work, the Lakers are doing everything they can to push him out the door. Ironically, he and Jordan Clarkson are the only members of this young core to have actually played with Kobe, yet neither figure into the Lakers’ future plans.
Kyle Kuzma is scoring more points per game than any Lakers rookie to play in Los Angeles — and doing so efficiently.
At the very least, Josh Hart has shown enough that we can predict he’ll be a very good role player over the course of his career.
The Lakers have enough cap space to sign one superstar this summer, and hey look at that! Paul George has been reportedly hell-bent on coming to L.A. for going on two years.
None of this has literally anything to do with Kobe (unless you count him being the worst player in the NBA his final season allowing the Lakers to keep their pick and draft Ingram), yet PR agent Kevin Ding’s first column was devoted to how Kobe is helping mold the Lakers without actually, you know, interacting with the Lakers.
Look, the Kobe Bryant era in Los Angeles was amazing. Five ringzzzzz, all those points, innumerable thinkpieces from writers and bloggers whose childhoods he ruined. I wouldn’t trade anything for it. But it’s time to move on. He retired. In all those appearances on Spectrum, he very politely declines the opportunity to join the other vastly inexperienced people running the organization. He has better things to do, like, win Oscars and stuff.
Surviving a superstar’s retirement is nothing new for the Lakers, either.
At some point, they’ve had to recover from Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and any other name you see in the rafters. They’ve won titles after each and every name called it quits, except for one (who happens to be up there twice). They’ve celebrated Kobe with his two jerseys and now a full snakeskin uniform. Once his statue(s?) go up, that’s enough.
Until they do let Kobe and the rest of their history become a thing of the past, they have no chance at keeping up with where the NBA is going.