Season One AK – After Kobe
For the first time since the 1995-96 basketball season, Kobe Bryant will not be on the Lakers’ roster. After 20 seasons, five championships, and 11 head coaching changes, the Black Mamba has retired. Lakers fans may take a moment of silence now. The Lakers organization has been centered on this man we call Kobe for 20 seasons. Every move the organization made had the Mamba approval. The team revolved around Kobe. It was the Los Angeles Kobes.
But now, it’s a new era. It’s an era Lakers fans should be excited for. It’s going to take some adjusting, but the Lakers are finally on the path back to relevance, let me tell you why.
- The team is young. At 36, Metta World Peace is the oldest player on the team… He’s actually the same age as the new head coach, Luke Walton. Of the 20 players currently on roster, 12 are under the age of 26, and 5 are under the age of 22 (younger than me!) This amount of youth may sound like a bad thing, but it is actually a very good thing. As I said, this organization has revolved around Kobe for 20 years; it needs a fresh start. What better way to get a fresh start than with fresh faces? Two players on the roster, Ivica Zubac and Brandon Ingram, weren’t even alive for Kobe’s first game. The Lakers organization has to find its identity without Kobe.
- The coach is new. Luke Walton is coming in at the perfect time. Kobe went through 11 head coaching changes. 10 different head coaches in a 20-year period. The team has had no stability. Since the 2010 season, there have been five different head coaches. How can any team be good with five head coaches in a six-year period? The perfect addition to a fresh start is a fresh young face at head coach.
The former Laker spent 11 years in the league, 9 of those with LA. As a player, he was part of two championship teams. As an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors, Walton won another ring. In the 2015-16 season, Walton took over for Steve Kerr for the first half of the season, and he led the team to a 39-4 start, the second-best start ever. With 12 of the 20 players on the roster under the age of 26, Walton is the perfect coach at only 36 years old. These young guys don’t need some old bald guy yelling at them, they need a young guy who relates to them. The older the coach, the bigger the disconnect in the locker-room. Both the players and coaches have room to grow.
- The new stars. If there was one thing we learned last season, other than everyone loves Kobe, is that Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle are the future of this franchise. Despite the 17-65 record, Clarkson, Randle, and Russell still managed to shine. In Summer League, Russell only continued to prove he has ice in his veins. These three might become LA’s Splash Bros.
Last year was basically Randle’s rookie season, and he still managed to average a double-double with 11.3 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game. He played in 81 games and was able to stay healthy, which is huge after coming off of a knee injury. Randle led the team in rebounds. Clarkson was the second-leading scorer last season, obviously behind Kobe, with 15.5 points per game. Clarkson played in 79 games. Coming from the D-League, Clarkson plays with a chip on his shoulder. He has proven he deserves to be on this team. And last but not least, Mr. Ice In My Veins. Russell averaged 13.2 points per game in his 80 games. Some people just have the clutch gene, and D’Angelo Russell is one of those people.
- Kobe is gone. I know, this hurts to see, but the reality is that Kobe was simply holding the team back the past few years. It was like a slow and drawn out breakup, neither side wanted it to end, but they both knew it needed to be over. Kobe’s body was turning against him, and despite that incredible Mamba Mentality, you can’t beat Father Time. The Lakers could not be good again and rebuild until Kobe was gone. As long as Kobe was on the team, the Lakers were stuck in the past. But now, there is no more Kobe, which allows for this rebuilding to begin. It seems like it has been forever since the Lakers were good, but the last championship was in the 2009-10 season. Unfortunately, seven years in the NBA is a lifetime. As much as it hurts to see The Mamba go, it’s what is best for him and for the team.
Now Lakers fans, don’t read this and think this is going to be a championship season. This team still needs a lot of work. Rome wasn’t built in a day; a championship team can’t be built in an offseason. However, this franchise is heading in the right direction. The Western Conference is still stacked, but I expect the Lakers do better than 17-65. The Lakers could, I said could, even make the playoffs. As of now, every team is equal at 0-0. It’s time to make the Lakers great again.
Written by: Jillian Kushner