Once upon a time, the Los Angeles Lakers were irrelevant. It was a brief period in their otherwise celebrated history, one which their fans would rather forget… but it happened.
After losing in the NBA Finals to the Chicago Bulls in 1991, the Lakers took a turn for the worse. Magic Johnson was about to retire. Shaquille O’Neal was still playing in Orlando and a young man named Kobe Bryant was only 13 years old.
Shortly after that, the Lakers had back to back sub-.500 seasons, something they hadn’t done since the mid-1970s and something that hasn’t happened again… until they flirt with doing so this year.
In 2014, the Lakers finished with 27 wins, the fewest they’ve had since they played in Minneapolis.
As an innocent bystander, I’m not too sure there’s a glimmering light at the end of their purple and gold tunnel. That former 13 year old named Kobe is now 36 and coming off Achilles surgery. The man who coached them to five championships moved to New York City and the Lakers, as dysfunctional a team as there is in the NBA, remain coach-less.
So I thought I’d hit up an old friend, the most avid (and often unreasonable) Lakers fan I know to pick his brain on all things La La Land, what they need to do to right the ship and return their team to championship form in an extremely competitive Western Conference.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bleed, which is short for Bleed Purple and Gold, an unabashed and most diehard of Lakers fans.
Bleed… Let’s start off on a high note, shall we? You have to be pleased with the Julius Randle pick. I loved the post-pick interview with Mitch Kupchack where the reporter asked him why they chose Randle at seven. Mitchie gave all the proper responses all the while wanting to say “It’s Julius Randle. He was still on the board. Of course we took him at seven.” No disrespect to Randle but the Lake show is so weak he could very well be starting next year. Your thoughts?
Bleed Lakers PnG: Julius Randle fell into Mitch’s lap. No brainer pick. Frankly I’m surprised he was still available. I saw the interview you’re referring to…Now don’t get me wrong, I love Mitch, he’s a great GM, but he interjects the phrase, “You know” at the most random times and more incessantly than most rappers.
The good news is that Julius is probably the second most NBA ready player in the draft behind Jabari Parker.
He’s 6′-9″ 250lbs, so physically he should be able to hold his own in the paint right away. He set Kentucky freshman records in double-doubles (24), boards (417), and free throws made (204) as the SEC Freshman of the Year, and was named to the All-SEC First Team. There was concern about his foot injury but he played through it at Kentucky without incident. I’m sure the Lakers did their due diligence, medically speaking pre-draft, so I’m not too concerned there. He’s not an above the rim type player, so that lessens the likelihood of re-injury a little.
His game has been likened to Zach Randolph, Derrick Coleman and Al Jefferson, so I’m hoping for the neighborhood of 20 & 10 for the next decade. He’s a lefty, which is a plus matchup wise in the NBA. I also love the fact that he grew up a Lakers fan and openly pined to be in L.A. before it actually happened and celebrated when the dream came true. On the heels of Dwight’s flight, it’s nice to have someone who actually WANTS to be here and play with Kobe. He even Tweeted a picture of himself as a kid wearing a #8 Kobe jersey. Solid pick for us.
I’m also happy with the pick Mitch bought from the Wizards, Jordan Clarkson. He had been projected mid to late first round. A shooting slump late in the season hurt his stock. A lot of people are using “steal of the draft” to describe him. I’m hoping we struck Nick Van Exel type late pick gold with Jordan. I’m confident Mitch had this specific player in mind when making this deal. You don’t do that unless you feel a real steal is there to be had. He’s been described as a Rodney Stuckey type slasher.
Now the free agent hunt begins with your boy LeBron being the #1 Lakers target, a long shot to say the least, especially since Riley got Shabazz Napier in a trade, who LBJ had openly lobbied for pre-draft. Nice move by Riles to appease the best player on the planet. Most likely he stays put.
With the cap space we have available I think Mitch could potentially shock the world with an LBJ/Melo/Kobe pairing, but just as easily play it low key, build for the future and sit on the money to chase more realistic big fish over the next two summers. The fact is we are in rebuild mode. Kobe’s monster extension showed loyalty by the Lakers but is a hindrance moving forward.
Carmelo alone is also a possibility, but once that plays out, I think they should try to bring back a few of our own. Pau, Jordan Hill, Swaggy P and Jodie Meeks should all be brought back for as little as possible. Barring getting a superstar or superstars like LBJ, Melo or K-Love, I’d like to see us go after Isiah Thomas Jr. who is a cheaper option than Kyle Lowry with huge upside. I wouldn’t mind Trevor Ariza coming home either. We can always chase another big time free agent next year like the aforementioned Love, Aldridge, Marc Gasol or Rajon Rondo. Or the summer after that, Kevin Durant. The Lakers have always had a knack of attracting stars; I think that will always be the case.
Jeanie and Jim Buss have shown a knack for swinging for the fences with acquisitions like CP3, D-12 and Nash. They took the risks, but weren’t rewarded. Hindsight is 20-20, but at the time, those moves were all celebrated. They simply didn’t pan out due to vetoes and/or injury.
In light of the downward spiral since the great Dr. Buss’ passing I think moves will be more heavily weighed. Unlike the majority of the Lakers impatient, even petulant fan base, I realize and accept it will take time. We gambled on Dwight, fell back to Plan B with Nash and D’Antoni when the veto happened and were more injury prone than a Miami retirement community the last two years. Despite all that, I am confident going forward. Randle is the first step. I’m excited to see what rabbit Mitch might pull out of his hat.
These should be an interesting next few months in Tinseltown.
Chump: Geez, dude. Let a brother get a word in edge-wise. I had all these solid questions lined up for you and you wouldn’t give me the microphone back.
Well here’s one thing you failed to mention. What the hell is going on with the coaching search? Why don’t you guys just hire Byron Scott and get it over with already? The guy has already proven his meddle, minus his last stint in Cleveland but I mean, c’mon, after LeBron put that kibosh on that team, I imagine having any sort of success would be tough with Dan Gilbert walking around the building stewing in his own anger.
Who would you like at the helm? Or more importantly, who else is out there? How much influence on this decision do you see Kobe having? And before you go off on a Kobe tangent, don’t, because I have my own personal Kobe-loaded question for you that I would like for you to answer as impartially as you can. (Yeah, right.)
Bleed Lakers PnG: Yeah, sorry about that. I get verbal diarrhea when it comes to the Lakers. You can relate, right? Wait…Too soon?
Byron is my first choice. He’s family, a proven commodity and understands the tradition we are trying to restore. My understanding is the Lakers are going to stalk LeBron to the bitter end before hiring anyone, and he reportedly bumped heads with Scott in Cleveland so we wait. Once LBJ officially rejects us, I’m pretty sure B will assume the helm.
Chump: After Jason Kidd’s latest tirades in Brooklyn, I hear he’s become available. And he’s got a whole year’s experience under his belt. What else could one ask for? I guess what I don’t understand is if B Scott is the logical choice, what’s the hold up? Sign him and give him a part of the decision-making process. Or is Kobe Bryant the only one in L.A. that gets to make personnel decisions?
Speaking of Kobe, let’s get right to it. What is it that would attract LeBron to L.A.? That roster is more devoid of talent than the one he’s currently playing on. And it’s not like the Lakers can pay him anything? If they max him out, with what Kobe’s getting paid, they’d hit the luxury tax by just adding scrubs. A Kobe-BronBron-Pau big three doesn’t strike me as ominous.
But beyond that, assuming Kobe’s got two years left, at what level we don’t know, do you think the Lakers will be able to attract another Type A Personality to coexist with the Mamba?
Bleed: The Lakers historically don’t ask player opinions on coaching or personnel choices. The LeBron pipe dream is the main hold up.
We are the Lakers, so I never say never when it comes to landing stars like LeBron. He’ll more than likely stay put, but both he and Melo have said they’d like to play together before their careers are done and with them both free agents, both 30 years old and the premiere franchise in the NBA having more cap space than any other team, when will that opportunity be more realistic than right now?
It’s a longshot to say the least, but not impossible.
Kobe got a fat deal when it probably didn’t make sense given his age and injuries, so even if LeBron & Melo took less for the first two years, they could get more down the road when Kobe either retires or re-ups for less should they make titles runs. If there’s anything positive to take from his extension, it shows players that the Lakers take care of their own.
Look, I’m not holding my breath for it to happen because they both have quicker paths to a ring elsewhere, but the mere possibility of a threesome of that caliber is what Hollywood dreams are made of.
Even non-hoopheads would take notice. They’d be bigger than the Beatles, Elvis or the original Dream Team. The marketing blitz would make even Gene Simmons blush.
Again, I don’t expect it to happen, but you never know when it involves the Lakers.
Chump: Readers, remember at the beginning of this post when I suggested that Bleed was “the most avid and often unreasonable” Lakers fan I know? Now you understand what I’m talking about.
Look, ‘Melo and BronBron taking less money is one thing. Them taking less while Kobe is waltzing around Staples Center making $30 mil is quite another.
You’re forgetting two key components. Kobe is one of the guys BronBron is chasing. So while those guys winning a ring together gives BronBron his third, it still leaves him three behind both Michael and Kobe. What of the rumors that those two aren’t the closest of friends? So why would LeBron do anything to help Kobe at this point?
Assuming this absolute clusterfuck, sorry, er… match made in Hollywood heaven were ever to happen, do you think Kobe could ever take a backseat leadership role? Or live without taking the last shot of the ballgame? Or not shoot ‘Melo a nasty look once he took it and missed it? How long do you think that honeymoon would last?
I honestly think how Kobe transitions himself out of the league these last few years will be quite interesting. I’m not convinced the Mamba is equipped for that.
Bleed: My Laker lenses are as thick as a Coke bottle bottoms, I realize this. Like I said, I’m not holding my breath.
Kobe is Kobe. His ego and arrogance define him. It’s his ultimate belief in himself that makes him great and turns off so many. He has evolved to a certain degree in that he knows he can’t do it alone, but I agree that his alpha dog nature might be a red flag to free agents.
Bear in mind that he publicly stated that he was more than happy to allow CP3 (pre-veto) and later, Steve Nash control of the offense because he deemed them worthy. I think LeBron’s ability to run an offense as well as his willingness to distribute the ball would convince Kobe to tone it back accordingly if it meant winning more titles.
These three players had no chemistry problems playing together in the last Olympics. I’m pretty sure they would do the same in purple and gold should the grand clusterfuck, as you so eloquently put it, should somehow miraculously come to fruition.
And for the record, LeBron leads Kobe in at least one Finals stat…Losses.
Chump: Let’s assume worst case scenario for Lakers fans this off-season. BronBron stays in Miami and ‘Melo chooses either Chicago or Houston. Short of asking Adam Silver’s permission to transfer to the Leastern Conference, what else can Los Angeles do to ensure themselves a playoff spot in the West?
Convince me this team can compete against the likes of San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Golden State, Portland and the Clippers.
Kobe’s got what? Two years left? Maybe it’s time to stop asking whether he’ll win another title and start asking whether he might ever make the playoffs again.
The possibilities are endless as far as what MIGHT happen, but realistically I can’t make that argument and truly believe it. I’ll just take the safe route and simply respond,
IN MITCH WE TRUST!
Chump: Well, that certainly took a turn for the worse.
I’m sorry, brother. I didn’t mean to make a mess of your Wheaties. I was just trying to look at things with impartially-colored glasses and Pau Gasol joining the Heat is much more of a possibility than LeBron traveling west.
With so much confusion at the helm (who’s running that team exactly?), it’s not like the good Dr. Buss is there to act as a stabilizing influence anymore and that’s what should concern Lakers fans most. Either way, it’s due to dedicated fans like you (and Dyan Cannon) putting pressure on that franchise to live up to the expectations they have set for themselves. So best of luck to ya’!
Is there anything else you’d like to add so as not to end this conversation on a down note?
Bleed: No down notes here, man. My purple and gold glass is always half full.
Pau to the Heat would practically guarantee another 2-3 titles for you guys, assuming the big 3 return (which it seems they will). But I think Pau wants to stay in LA. The question is will he be able to pass up the bigger payday and possibility of more titles elsewhere while the Lakers chase bigger fish and he’s left dangling in the wind yet again. For a guy whose jersey will eventually hang in our rafters, he’s been treated like a second class citizen more than once but remained loyal. He’s always been a class act.
Though there is a singular leadership voice void with Dr. Buss gone (God bless his purple and gold soul), I think Jeanie, Jim and Mitch are capable. This leadership by committee thing is still on shaky ground due to how things unfolded the last few years, but I’m optimistic about the future. It may take longer to get back to the top than we’re accustomed to here in Tinseltown, but by the same token it may happen much faster as well. Time will tell.
That’s the beauty of being a Lakers fan, the possibilities are endless…and none of them are impossible.