This is not how Kobe’s return was supposed to pan out.
After seeing his name at number 25 on ESPN’s top players list and their prediction that the Lakers would finish twelfth in the Western conference, Kobe was supposed to use the motivation to will himself and the Lakers to greatness. However, six games into his comeback the Mamba was averaging a pedestrian 14 points per game to go along with a nauseating assist to turnover ratio of almost 1 and a sub-par record of 2-4. Now, the Lakers will now be without the services of their highest paid player for at least the next 6 weeks as he recovers from a fractured bone in his knee.
Remember last year when Steve Nash suffered a non-displaced leg fracture and the Lakers gave him an incredibly short recovery time of one week, yet he ended up missing two months? The Lakers aren’t as far off this time in evaluating Kobe’s return date, but as Dr. Robert Klapper said on SportsCenter, “Six weeks is a generous timetable for this kind of injury, especially given the fact that he is 35 years old.”
Without Kobe earlier this year, the Lakers were stuck in mediocrity – basketball’s version of hell. They were good enough to just barely miss the playoffs, resulting in the unenviable position of having the last pick in the lottery. When Kobe did return, the Lakers actually took a step in the wrong (or right) direction, depending on who you talk to. However, this was just an adjustment period, not only for Kobe’s teammates to adjust to him, but for Kobe to adjust to his teammates. It was evident the stagnant ball movement during Kobe’s first two or three games back was beginning to dwindle as the offense started to regain its fluidity we saw prior to Kobe’s return. Yes, Kobe was a complete liability on defense. But in case you didn’t notice, almost the whole Lakers’ team gets burned defensively.
If the Lakers could have stayed relatively healthy this season, odds were they would’ve been an upper echelon offensive team without a clue what the term “defense” means, and would have hung around in the playoffs just long enough to get embarrassed by the Thunder or Spurs.
Now, Kobe’s latest injury gives the Lakers a new lease on their season. They can be as bad as they ever have! This Lakers’ team is much different than the team that hovered around .500 earlier this season sans Kobe. Unlike then, the Lakers are now dealing with a myriad of injuries. They are without their three point guards: Farmar for at least another week with a torn hamstring, Blake for at least a month with torn elbow ligaments, and Nash for at least another four weeks, but seemingly forever, with an injured everything. Although, with the way Nash has played this year, the Lakers prospects of a top pick may be better with him playing.
All this has forced Xavier Henry to become the starting point guard, a position he hasn’t played since his AAU days in high school; and his backup possibly being newly signed D-Leaguer Kendall Marshall.
But wait, it gets better. The primary option offensively for the Lakers now will be Pau Gasol. The big man who is shooting a career low 44% from the field and also admitted because D’Antoni isn’t giving him enough post-up opportunities, he isn’t playing as hard as he could. The rest of the Lakers’ squad is mostly made up of players who couldn’t make it on other teams with the exception of the one player Mike D’Antoni refuses to play, Chris Kaman.
The Lakers aren’t going to end up with the worst record in the league, they still aren’t that awful (unfortunately). That prestigious honor is going to be won (or lost) by either the Jazz or the Bucks, although the 76ers are starting to give them both a run for their money. But, depending on how long it takes Kobe to return and if the injury bug continues to bite (judging by the last few seasons, it will), the Lakers could find themselves with a top five pick.
The Lakers are still better than a lot of the lottery teams in the East even without Kobe, but playing in the Western Conference certainly aids the Lakers’ chances at a high draft pick. To give you an idea of how much better the West is than the East, there are thirteen teams in the West that could make the playoffs if they were in the Eastern Conference, and only two teams from the East that would definitely make it in the West. The Lakers have to play almost every team in the West at least four times while only playing Eastern Conference teams twice, making their schedule much harder than any team in the East. A tougher schedule means more losses, which means hello high draft pick!
Even if the Lakers only manage to land the seventh overall pick, they can still draft a player who could become a franchise-cornerstone, as this draft promises to be one of the deepest and most talented drafts in NBA history.
Currently the top seven players for the draft are: Andrew Wiggins (a raw player with an incredible amount of athleticism and boatloads of potential), Jabari Parker (the most NBA-ready and complete player in the draft who has scored at least 19 points in every game this year except one), Julius Randle (a monster on the low block with the strength and athleticism to become a superstar), Joel Embiid (a seven footer who is extremely raw, but is great defensively and possesses the size and athleticism to become a dominant force), Dante Exum (a 6’6″ point guard with a knack for getting the ball in the basket), Marcus Smart (complete player just like Jabari Parker, only 6’4″ instead of 6’8″ and a point guard), and Aaron Gordon (a small forward/power forward whose athletic ability has drawn comparisons to Blake Griffin).
Getting one of these players undeniably helps the Lakers moving forward. They have a chance to get a player (on a rookie pay scale for the next four years) who could step in and be their number one option right away. This still leaves them with enough room to pursue a Carmelo Anthony signing, although restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe may be a better fit.
Sometimes the only way to get back to greatness in the NBA is by sinking to the bottom first. The Lakers can still have a successful season, but unlike other seasons, this season’s success will be judged on how many lottery balls they have, not playoff victories.
This was an article by Corbin Weinerman. You can follow him on Twitter here: @Corbinmrpk