On January 22, 2006 arguably the game’s second best player behind Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, put up 81 points on the Toronto Raptors. How ironic Bryant’s beloved Los Angeles Lakers- a team he dedicated all 20 years of his professional career to- honored him by recording its’ worst loss in franchise history after suffering a shock loss to Dallas Mavericks. The margin?
A point difference of 49 on the back off a humbling 73-122 loss that puts the Lakers at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and on a 16 win 32 loss record for the season. To think Kobe’s tally on the night outpaced his team’s total point output is utterly shocking.
His statistics on that night were better than those on Sunday in almost every category; his point tally from the field (28) matched those produced by the 2016-2017 Lakers roster. Sad to say, Los Angeles finds itself in the same spot as the Raptors in the mid 2000’s.
Los Angeles really did not want to honor its greatest player this way but a pile of injuries coupled with giving first and second year players extended minutes on the floor made it happen.
Despite doing away with the old school, heavy handed approach from Byron Scott in the offseason and replacing him with another Laker product in Luke Walton, the obvious cannot be ignored; the Lakers are far from a competitive team. No one harbored aspirations like that at the beginning of the season until Walton’s in tune coaching philosophies got the young team to a great start that had them win 10 wins in the opening 20 games.
Suddenly, part owner Jim Buss’s’ bold declaration to resign if the Lakers failed to make the playoffs in two years had fast tracked its timetable with the side in the thick of playoff conversation early in the season. As the saying goes, water always finds its level and almost half way into the campaign, Los Angeles is back where it belongs.
Having a star like Kobe changes everything in the NBA because for starters, that win over Toronto in 2006 had Kobe playing alongside non NBA type players in Smush Parker, Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm. Excluding Lamar Odom none of the aforementioned players deserved to wear the purple and gold jersey of the league’s second most successful team. The quest for the next Kobe is what team management hopes to benefit from three seasons of losing so many games . The returns have been healthy thus far as Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram have flashed tantalizing skill to believe their All-Star credentials in some years to come.
But typical of rookies, all three have pressing issues to deal with in the interim. Randle is a virtual triple double machine but lacks the focus to make it happen consistently just as Russell’s injury have flipped flopped all season long and Ingram is finding his way through the thick heavy bodies in the league. At this rate, Los Angeles is heading straight for the lottery and the potential to snag a future Kobe-esque player for the future. Losing to another rebuilding team in Dallas could be viewed as another low mark in team history but a closer look at Dallas brings up reasons to defend such a blowout loss despite Mavericks woeful 13th position in the standings.
For one, they still have Dirk Nowitzki who still can score and an impressive starting lineup ably complemented by one of the game’s best minds, Rick Carlisle. Dallas’s problem like many in the league (Washington, Miami, New Orleans) has been low production from the bench. Thus far, Lakers management has done a great job piecing together assets that will grow into a contender maybe in line with Buss’s’ timeline as the stellar collection of talent alongside Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jnr. are strong foundations to build on. That spur can be done either through in house development from the aforementioned players or nabbing a star.
The same young pieces can be used as trade bait to get stars in not so comfortable spots like Chicago’s Jimmy Butler. If that is to happen, the team needs to be more circumspect in dolling out contracts since it failed in the offseason after splashing serious cash on Timofey Mozgov ($64 million for four years) and ($72 million for four years Luol Deng) who honestly don’t deserve such gaudy amounts of paper.
11 years ago, the Lakers, behind its transcendent star waltzed past a rebuilding team. 11 years on, another rebuilding team blitzed them in similar resound fashion and that is the Lakers then and now.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@ YawMintYM on Twitter