The Los Angeles Lakers went into the offseason strapped with plenty of cap space to pursue top flight free agents in Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, which the organization in correspondence gauged the interest of both players.
However, it was not due to a lack of trying as the Lakers were able to land a meeting with each player with Anthony flying to Los Angeles to speak with management at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo. Immediately following that sitdown, general manager Mitch Kupchak then flew to Cleveland to hold a presentation with James’ agent Rich Paul.
The Lakers had put all their cards on the table, and just struck out with both players. They also were not so lucky in their contract negotiations with Pau Gasol, who decided to turn down two offers from Los Angeles and sign with the Chicago Bulls instead.
It was not such a good start to the offseason for the Lakers, who will be entering a crucial 2014-15 season for many reasons, but first and foremost it will be the first year of Kobe Bryant‘s two-year, $48.5 million contract that he signed in November last year. Bryant is coming off a season where he missed all but six games due to his recovery from a torn left Achilles and a fracture in his left knee.
That being the case, the 36-year-old still remains the focal point of the team despite suffering two serious injuries, and the unknown factor of what kind of player he will be next season.
With Bryant still the main cog of the team’s offense, the Lakers this offseason built a team from what was available in hopes of remaining competitive in the Western Conference by adding Carlos Boozer, trading for Jeremy Lin, hiring Byron Scott as the team’s next head coach, and re-signing both Jordan Hill and Nick Young. They also signed free agent big man Ed Davis, and brought back a trio of players from last year’s team in Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, and Xavier Henry.
This is not to forget their seventh overall pick in this year’s draft in former Kentucky forward Julius Randle, and likely the addition of their 46th overall pick in former Missouri guard Jordan Clarkson. It may not have been the players Bryant wanted to play alongside him this upcoming season, but is it enough to keep him happy?
The short answer is yes, but only on the sole condition that the team wins games.
Bryant is focused on winning and only that. This will be a tough task for Los Angeles in the 2014-15 season, because of how competitive the Western Conference is with the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.
There is also other teams such as the Dallas Mavericks, who only got better this offseason with the addition of Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler, and the gritty defensive-minded Memphis Grizzles. Simply put, the Western Conference is stacked and it is going to take a lot of work to make the playoffs.
At this moment, the consensus is that the Lakers don’t have enough talent to reach the postseason in the West that needed 49 wins to get in last season. However for the Lakers to once again reach the playoffs it is going to require much heavy lifting by Bryant, which in essence means that much of his happiness will lie on his own shoulders.
This is asking quite much from a player that is returning from a serious injury, especially one that is up in age, but if anyone could it do Bryant would be it. He has repeatedly defied the odds playing through injuries, but this time may be the most difficult because he has a lot of mileage on his body entering his 19th season in the NBA. That in mind, the team’s success next season will ultimately fall on Bryant’s teammates as he can only do so much as one player.
In order for the Lakers to win games, Bryant will need his new teammates in Lin and Boozer to play in significant roles after coming off down years in terms of production last season. Boozer in the 2013-14 season had his worst averages in points (13.7) and rebounds (8.3) since the 2003-04 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and posted his worst field goal percentage (45.6) in a single season in his career.
Lin struggled to play with any consistency as he was relegated to the bench in 38 out of 71 games that he played, which as a result saw a drop in both his points and assists averages.
Also lost in this shuffle is Steve Nash, who like Bryant is coming off a season where he missed most of the season due to injuries. In his case, Nash is dealing with lingering ailments, and there is much doubt he can be an impact player at this point in his career and stay relatively healthy throughout an entire season. However if he is able to remain healthy, Nash could potentially have a major impact on how the team plays this upcoming season.
What this all points to is that the Lakers will have the chips stacked against them this upcoming season with many questions surrounding the team’s roster. If they want to keep Bryant happy in the 2014-15 season they must win games and make the playoffs because when it comes down to it Bryant is all about winning and nothing else.
Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Bob Garcia IV
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