The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of a youth movement. The Lakers have 10 players on the current season roster with five years of NBA playing experience or less. That is not by coincidence. The team’s star Kobe Bryant is the elder statesman playing with a bunch of upstart youngsters who are still wet behind the ears when it comes to knowing all the nuances of playing in the NBA at a high level.
Eventually, they will get there. For now, though, it’s going to be trial through error with the young players learning on the fly in following Bryant’s lead on how to do the little things to win a ballgame.
Being the older guy in the middle of a group of young pups is not a bad thing for the five-time NBA champion Bryant. There is much to be said about age and wisdom. Instead of worrying about or having to deal with a bunch of hardheaded free agents balking at having to do things the Lakers’ way, Bryant is in perfect position the next two seasons to push, prod, guide and mold the next generation of players on how to do things the right way.
Bryant’s driven methodology of trying to get the max out of his teammates will only serve the Lakers this season and the near future well. The students have the right teacher in Bryant to help them ace their NBA test night in and night out. But while he is handling out on-court instructions to his teammates, Bryant is trying to win and win now.
This 2014-15 season is not about what free agents didn’t come to the Lakers; it’s about a franchise understanding that to get back to putting a dominant product back on the court, patience and development of their young players is pivotal.
Rome was not built in a day, so restoring the glory of the Lakers won’t happen overnight, either.
In the meantime, however, what the team can do is compete. Competing hard and fiercely is not an option for this group if they want to stay in or have a chance at winning ballgames this season. It’s something that is almost a mandate. And it’s something you either have or you don’t. The Lakers have the perfect mentor in Bryant to lead the charge in that category, a man whose DNA is wrapped around greatness.
That should not be too hard of a task to ask for with Bryant around and head coach Byron Scott barking out instructions. Julius Randle, Jeremy Lin, Ronnie Price, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Xavier Henry, Jordan Clarkson, and Wesley Johnson are all going to have their share of ups and downs and bumps and bruises that comes with the rigors of life, especially playing to the expectations of producing wins for a team that have won 16 NBA championships.
But they’ll also have the opportunity to earn their keep with the Lakers and the Purple and Gold fan base. Nick Young (injured) and offseason pickup Carlos Boozer add a wrinkle of veteran leadership to the mix for the Lakers, a team looking to improve on its 27-55 record last season.
The Lakers will be able to do that in two forms: The first option is putting the necessary talent together, piece by piece, like drafting Randle in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft and bringing in a young commodity such as Lin, moves that will benefit the team in the long run.
The Lakers may not be pretty to watch this season but they’re building up to it. They’ll certainly improve on the record they amassed last season. Just having Bryant on the court healthy should give the team an extra 10 to 15 games in the win column. Bryant, as we all know, missed most of the season because an injury. And even though he is playing in his 19th season, you still have to look at Bryant as still being the Alpha Dog among alpha dogs in the league.
And let’s be clear about this: Anyone picking Bryant as the 40th best player in the NBA should have their brains removed or what’s left of it dumped in the toilet. How disrespectful is it to have 39 other players ranked ahead of Bryant as ESPN.com has done? Yes, this is a young man’s game. But the fact that ESPN.com is trying to sell the notion that Al Horford (No. 26), Andre Drummond (No. 30), Al Jefferson (No. 22) and some of the other players on that list can outplay the Black Mamba night in and night out, is a bunch of cool beans.
There is still not a better closer in the league than Bryant. Bryant is still the same cat who put up 81 points in a game, was hands down the best player in the NBA for over at least a decade, and in this writer’s opinion, still a player no one wants to see with the ball in his hands with the game on the line. That will prove to be the one constant the Lakers can rely on this season as Bryant seeks to surpass Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Bryant started the season 593 points behind Jordan. There’s no doubt if he stays healthy, Bryant will reach and supplant Sir Air this season. But it’s a good bet that Bryant is a little bit more concerned about winning games with his young teammates and making the postseason than being on the receiving end of personal platitudes.