Would Los Angeles Lakers Be Better Off Without Kobe Bryant?

Kobe Bryant is the Los Angeles Lakers.

That’s the problem.

Or, at least that’s the problem for whatever percentage of Purple and Gold loyalists want a sustainable, functional operation—one with the impersonal approach necessary to keep up in an increasingly analytical NBA.

There’s a whole other faction of Lakers fans for whom Bryant is most definitely not a problem. They’re the ones who just want to see No. 24 keep playing and keep wowing them with his willpower and shot-making. They want the familiar ride to continue because they’re afraid of the dark, uncertain future ahead.

They’re drinking in Bryant’s play, his practice rants and his alpha personality thirstily, even if it might be poison. They just want as much Kobe as they can get, while they can get it.

Are the Lakers better off without their icon?

That all depends on what you’d like the team to be.

 

Stats Don’t Lie

The Lakers are worse—substantially and irrefutably—when Kobe Bryant is on the court.

It’s true that Bryant’s bench minutes often come when the game is already decided, which allows his replacements to face reserves who are merely going through the motions. Maybe that partially helps explain the massive discrepancy in his on/off splits.

He plays alongside Carlos Boozer for more than 21 minutes per game, per NBA.com, and C-Booze’s on- and off-court splits are nearly as bad as Kobe’s. Maybe this is all Boozer’s fault.

It’s not, of course. There are just a few logically flimsy ways for Bryant apologists to explain away the statistical ugliness.

Just watching the Lakers, it’s obvious why Bryant has hurt the team’s production: He eats up possessions with low-percentage shots, stops the ball on offense and doesn’t set the tone on defense. He gets away with all of this because neither his coach nor his teammates can stop him.

Bryant has willed just about everyone around him into submission, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe noted on Twitter:

Nick Young would seem to be the exception, but that’s hardly surprising because he has successfully commodified self-confidence. The Swaggy P brand is built on unflinching self-assurance.

Jeremy Lin is more emblematic of how Bryant makes his teammates feel. Though neither Lin nor anyone else has spoken out directly against Kobe, it’s getting easier to read between the lines:

Unfortunately for the Lakers, Kobe’s support system isn’t doing much for him.

But he might be why there’s no decent help on the roster.

 

What Could Have Been

The Lakers lack talent for a number of reasons.

The NBA intervened three years ago and vetoed a trade that would have brought Chris Paul into the fold. Steve Nash’s body betrayed him the second he got off the plane at LAX in 2012. Dwight Howard wasn’t healthy and couldn’t get comfortable with the Lakers (partly because of Bryant, but you get the idea).

If we ignore those twists of fate, which is admittedly tough when analyzing the state of the Lakers, we see that Bryant is still partially responsible for the weakness of this roster. He makes too much money. And in a league where teams have to operate with finite finances, there’s no way to ignore the fact that he’s soaking up cash that could have been used to strengthen the roster.

Bryant is entitled to as much compensation as he can get, and it’s not his fault ownership shoveled $48.5 million into his lap over the next two years. But we’ve seen plenty of other stars take less. And if we’re trying to logically determine whether the Lakers would be better off without Kobe, the cash he’s collecting is absolutely a factor.

Maybe the Lakers would have signed players of consequence this past offseason if Bryant’s contract had been smaller. After all, at least one big name still thinks Kobe is an attractive teammate.

Kevin Durant, the prize free agent of the 2016 class, disputed the notion that stars don’t want to play with Bryant, per Sam Amick of USA Today

Excuse my language, but that’s (expletive). I want to play with a winner every single night, especially somebody who wants to win that bad, who works that hard, who demands a lot, who raises up your level. I’d want to play with a guy like that every day. … (His style) may make people uncomfortable, how he acts and just how he approaches the game, but I love that type of stuff. I think (the accusation) is BS.

Whether it was Bryant’s contract size or personality that prevented the Lakers from bolstering the roster, the fact remains: One way or another, his presence made it harder to add talent. It’s no great leap to say the Lakers would be better off with more talent.

 

Bryant’s Immeasurable Value?

It’s possible that Bryant is still actually good for the Lakers in some ways.

Without him, the thinking goes, there’d be no reason to watch. No reason to care. No reason to buy tickets. No reason for massive cable outlets to pay top dollar to broadcast games. Perhaps, most critically, no reason for future free agents to trust in the loyalty of the Lakers.

We have to factor those things in when discussing Bryant and his worth because that’s exactly what the Lakers did, as Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News wrote when Kobe signed his massive deal in 2013:

The Lakers also wanted Bryant to know they equated 17 years of built equity in enhancing the Lakers brand, ranging from five NBA championships, ticket sales, jersey sales and the organization’s deal with Time Warner Cable SportsNet and weren’t solely fixated on how he’d play following his Achilles injury.

The Lakers might have been just as profitable, just as attractive to those future free agents and just as relevant to fans if they’d never extended Kobe’s contract. For one thing, we know attendance figures have barely changed from last year, when Bryant played just six games, per ESPN.com.

That’s a small piece of evidence suggesting the “no Kobe” financial picture might not have been all that bad.

Here’s another: A portion of the Lakers’ annual income hinges on local television ratings, according to Henry Abbott of ESPN, and that was a key reason behind Kobe’s contract. However, Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Lakers’ television ratings are actually down from where they were this time last year.

The Lakers averaged a 2.25 rating for [the first 20 games] on Time Warner Cable SportsNet, down 28% from the 3.14 at the start of last season. …

The Lakers’ ratings are near the historic low of 2.11 they averaged all of last season, the worst on record for local Lakers telecasts and a 54% drop from the 2012-13 season, when they averaged a 4.63.

Bryant’s absence might not have sunk the Lakers financially, and the numbers indicate viewers like winning more than they like Kobe. But it seems the front office wasn’t comfortable taking that risk.

Like so many fans, those running the Lakers opted for a few more years of life as they knew it—life with Bryant—instead of moving into the hazy future. Probable losing and certain relevance, they decided, were better than the alternative.

Lakers president Jeanie Buss told ESPN The Magazine‘s Ramona Shelburne: “So while I get attached, I know what the realities are in this business. It’s never going to change what we’ve accomplished together. But I don’t look forward to the day that Kobe Bryant’s not in purple and gold.”

The Lakers are a business, and Bryant is generally assumed to be good for business—despite what some of the facts suggest.

 

For A Limited Time Only

After L.A.’s two-year limbo period with Bryant ends in 2016, the Lakers will have no choice but to move forward. Even if Bryant wants to keep playing beyond his current contract, Lakers brass won’t pay him big bucks to stick around. They’ve satisfied their loyalty obligations, and it’s hard to imagine fanseven Bryant’s staunchest onesaccepting more of the same.

The future is coming, and it will not include Kobe.

As polarizing as he is, even the most ardent Bryant detractors must find that a little sad. Despite the fact that the Lakers are probably better off without him, it’s hard to fault the team or its fans for wanting to hold on to Kobe a little longer.

 

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Los Angeles Clippers: Christmas week preview

Sitting with a record of 19-8, the Los Angeles Clippers are about to begin a week which will determine their position in the Western Conference. Christmas week brings the Clippers four games in just six days all against teams that play basketball at a near elite to elite level. Let’s preview each of these games one by one:
Dec 22nd at San Antonio:
Oddly enough, despite playing the defending champion Spurs in San Antonio, this match-up may prove to be the Clippers most winnable game the week. The San Antonio Spurs right now are a basketball team that just need a collective week off. Star players Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard will both likely be out with injuries, and having played two different triple overtimes games last week (both games being early candidates for best of the season) it’s unlikely that Coach Gregg Popovich will want to play Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili too many minutes. A game against San Antonio is NEVER easy, but the Spurs are wounded right now, and The Clippers should be able to take

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Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings: Live Score, Highlights and Reaction

The Kings lead the Lakers 26-23 after one. Darren Collison has eight points to lead all scorers.

Be sure to keep it right here as Bleacher Report provides you with live coverage throughout the game.

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Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Lakers 12/19/14: Video Highlights, Recap

The Oklahoma City Thunder looked to bounce back from a tough loss their last time out when they took on the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.

The Thunder saw their seven-game win streak snapped on Thursday night and faced a Lakers squad who had their three-game win streak snapped in their last contest.

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Which Los Angeles Lakers Have a Legitimate Future with the Team?

The Los Angeles Lakers can’t win for losing.

No sentiment seems more appropriate for this talent-deprived team that runs the risk of losing a top-five NBA lottery draft pick next June if it ekes out too many wins during the regular season.

At 8-18, that’s just where the Lakers stand during another record-setting, gosh-awful season.

What’s a coach and his players to do? For a small handful of Lakers who may have a legitimate future with the team, the answer is simple: Play hard and play to win every night. Your job depends on it.

If it was left up to Magic Johnson, the Lakers would purposely lose every game to ensure they obtain a coveted lottery draft selection next June. Johnson told Neil Best of Newsday:

If you’re going to lose, you have to lose, because you can’t be in the middle of the pack. You either have to be great or you have to be bad, to get a good [draft] pick.

Unfortunately, Magic has no role in how the team performs. And players aren’t going to take the court in order to tank games—it’s just not their nature.

So this year’s Lakers team follows a pattern of of mediocrity that seems to keep it just good enough to eventually miss out on gaining that top-five draft pick. There’s still plenty of season left for L.A. to sneak into the bottom five or even three, which made its one-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night such a nail-biter.

What’s obvious is that the Lakers lack talent and depth. And the only way to get more of each is through the draft, trades and free-agent signings.

Regardless of how they go about getting better, the current Lakers who seek job stability with the purple-and-gold can only control what they do and how they perform.

The current number of Lakers with a legitimate shot at sticking around is small. The club will probably turn over at least half of its roster before next season, which means everyone, save for Kobe Bryant, lacks job security.

By the time Bryant’s contract ends in 2016, the Lakers most likely will look a lot different than they do today. A few players stand a good chance of being part of that future core group.

 

Julius Randle

If there is one sure thing, it would have to be retaining the 20-year-old power forward from Kentucky who broke his leg after playing just 14 minutes this season.

Randle is off crutches and back in the gym as he rehabilitates for next year. Based on his NBA Summer League play and training camp, Lakers management expects the 6’9” stretch power forward to be a prominent force for years to come.

And Randle can’t wait to get back, per the Los Angeles Times.

You miss the competitive atmosphere, going to war with your teammate. It’s a brotherhood out there, and it’s tough to just sit back and watch, but I’m learning a lot throughout all of this.

Randle is one of the key building blocks for the Lakers’ future. That’s a lot to put on a kid so young, but he seems up to the task and will just get better with time.

 

Nick Young

Swaggy P was the only Laker given a long-term contract in the offseason. He eagerly signed it, even though he might have received more had he gone elsewhere, per the Los Angeles Daily News.

Young finished tied for eighth in the voting last season for the Sixth Man of the Year Award. And though he missed the first six weeks of this season due to a thumb injury, Young has to be considered one of the league’s front-runners to win the award this year.

In 16 games, all coming off the bench, Young is averaging 14.9 points and shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc. He’s hit some big shots, including a low-percentage three-pointer over Manu Ginobili that helped the Lakers beat the San Antonio Spurs in overtime on the road.

Young had six three-pointers in that win over the Spurs and finished with 29 points in just 25 minutes.

Bryant has had nothing but praise for Young since welcoming him back to the lineup, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News

You got a player who can get buckets and create. He does wonders. Nick is a phenomenal talent. He has a pull-up jump shot and is creating mismatches. I’m very happy to have him back.

At 29 years old, Young would seem to have a bright future in Los Angeles. He brings energy, excitement, scoring and personality both on and off the court—sounds like a Lakers leader.

 

Jordan Hill

If he doesn’t get traded first, Jordan Hill could be a fixture at power forward and center for L.A. the next few years.

After hearing that the Lakers had no interest in shopping Hill, rumors circulated last week (via USA Today) that L.A. offered Hill and a first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics for Rajon Rondo. But that was nixed in Boston, and Rondo ended up with the Dallas Mavericks.

Starting all 26 games at center for the Lakers, the 6’10″, 235-pound Hill is averaging close to 30 minutes a game—a career high. Thirteen points and eight rebounds are also high-water marks for the 27-year-old, sixth-year veteran.

The Lakers have the option on Hill’s $9 million contract for next season, and The Sporting News recently reported that they had no desire to trade him now. Thanks to a better diet and training, Hill is playing the best basketball of his career:

With D’Antoni, it was hard for me to find the minutes. He wanted me to do the things he wanted me to do to get the minutes. I couldn’t really do what I wanted to do, to play the way I know I could play. So, things happened and now it’s a whole new year. Now, I am one of the main focal points of the team, so I can go out there and do what I am capable of doing.

 

Jordan Clarkson

He may be on the rookie shuttle between the NBA and the D-League, but Clarkson has a bright future with the Lakers if they have the patience to let him develop.

The 22-year-old, 6’5” rookie guard from Missouri was splendid during the Summer League, averaging close to 16 points and a team-leading five rebounds per game.

Clarkson is the third option at point guard this season behind Jeremy Lin and Ronnie Price, making it hard for the rookie to see playing time. Make no mistake, though—management likes this kid.

Clarkson averaged 17.5 points at Mizzou but wasn’t drafted till the second round as the 46th pick, after the Lakers paid the Washington Wizards for the right to pick him.

Shuttling between the Lakers and the D-League D-fenders, Clarkson is in his NBA infancy. He displayed some of what the future holds during Summer League but is averaging just 11 minutes and 4.5 points at the NBA level. He has impressed the Black Mamba (via Los Angeles Daily News):

I like him. He’s a hard worker and a curious player. He tries to pick things apart and tries to learn and absorb as much as he can.

Bryant calls him “a steal of a pick.”

Clarkson as a point guard is a work-in-progress. But he is a natural at driving to the basket, and he’s not afraid of being physical. He has a developing mid-range game and, given more playing time, will eventually turn into the kind of player who might average 15 points, five rebounds and five assists a game.

 

Others

Wesley Johnson and Ed Davis are both on the bubble in terms of their future with the Lakers. The 6’7″ Johnson has improved his defense immeasurably, and that is where he’ll probably make his biggest mark.

Likewise, the 6’10″ Davis excels at the defensive end of the floor but is also a sure bet to score close to the basket. Davis scored 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting in 32 minutes of the Lakers’ one-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday. For the season, he is making 63 percent of his shots.

Davis is 25, while Johnson is 27. They are good role players who would fit in nicely with a future Lakers team that may include high draft picks and top free-agent signings.

Kobe Bryant’s future with the Lakers is obviously going to be short-lived. He’ll either retire after next  season or continue for another year or two if he sees a championship team being built.

Bryant has often looked tired and is shooting just 38 percent, the worst of his 19-year career. The 36-year-old is playing 35.4 minutes per game, which is about five minutes too many.

The way Bryant is being used by coach Byron Scott may heavily contribute to what sort of future, if any, he will have with the Lakers. Unless Scott manages his minutes better, the future for Bryant could end before his contract does.

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Milwaukee Bucks vs. Los Angeles Clippers 12/20/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Los Angeles Clippers looked to bounce back from a tough loss their last time out, when they took on the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. The Clippers lost a heartbreaker to the Nuggets their last time out and faced a tough test from the young Bucks, who had won three of their last four.

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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets 12/19/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Los Angeles Clippers looked to continue their recent run of success on Friday night when they took on the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers had won two straight and faced a tough test from the athletic Nuggets, who had dropped three straight and seven of their last eight. 

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Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Postgame Grades and Analysis

With Kevin Durant out, Russell Westbrook once again proved capable of carrying the load in a 104-103 win for the Oklahoma City Thunder over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Westbrook dominated the game offensively, scoring 31 points on 9-of-22 shooting and dishing out a game-high 10 assists. Every time the Lakers drew close, Westbrook was there with a much-needed score.

Opposite Westbrook was Kobe Bryant, who struggled mightily with his shot in a 3-of-15 performance that included a missed jumper that would’ve won the game.

He impacted the game in other ways, though, nearly notching a triple-double with nine points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook: A

Westbrook has been tantamount to a one-man wrecking crew this season, doing anything and everything OKC needs. That’s been especially true in the games Kevin Durant has missed.

Durant was out Friday with an ankle injury, opening the door for Westbrook to carry the offense himself. The explosive guard finished the game with 31 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and a crucial jumper late in the fourth quarter.

 

Serge Ibaka: B-

Serge Ibaka had an inefficient game offensively, taking 17 shots to get his 16 points. He settled for a few too many jumpers and his percentage suffered because of it.

It was a different story on the other end, though. He was aggressive defensively and on the boards, leading to seven rebounds and five blocks.

 

Reggie Jackson: A-

Reggie Jackson combined with Westbrook to form a terrifying duo for which the Lakers had no answers. No one could stay in front of Jackson, as he shot 9-of-15 from the field for 25 points.

On defense, he wasn’t quite as spectacular, struggling to contain Jeremy Lin’s drives or force Wayne Ellington off the three-point line.

 

Steven Adams: B-

As always, Steven Adams pestered the opposition, playing a physical brand of defense and relentlessly attacking the boards on both ends.

He finished with 10 rebounds and nine points but raw box scores don’t always measure his impact. It’s often the way he clogs the paint or just generally frustrates the opposition that makes him valuable.

 

Rest of Team: C-

The only other contributor who did much for the Thunder was Andre Roberson, who scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting. He nailed two threes, doubling his season total.

Perry Jones was the fifth starter, but scored zero points on 0-of-2 shooting in just 12 minutes.

After that, there really wasn’t any production off the bench, which highlighted a problem that could plague the Thunder throughout the year.

 

Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant: C-

Bryant looked fatigued from pretty much the opening tip, holding his head down after bad possessions and often not even trying to get back defensively.

On offense, he clearly lacked the lift he typically gets on his jumpers, as most of his shots came up short. That was painfully clear on the potential game-winner he missed as time expired.

Bryant made up for his struggles to some extent by doing a good job of distributing the ball. He was hunting for his shot less than he usually does on the way to his eight assists.

 

Ed Davis: A

Byron Scott moved Ed Davis into the starting lineup over Carlos Boozer for defensive purposes. Friday, it looked like the move may have been for Davis’ offense.

He was active around the rim, finishing when teammates set him up or off of offensive rebounds. His touch inside helped him score 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting, and his hustle led to nine rebounds and two blocks.

 

Nick Young: D+

Nick Young has been the Lakers’ spark off the bench for most of the season, but he did it with something other than points against the Thunder.

During the second half, he took exception to what appeared to be a clean screen by Steven Adams and threw an elbow to Adams’ throat. The move got him tossed from the game, but it apparently fired up his teammates, as they immediately went on a run.

He wound up with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting in just 13 minutes.

 

Ronnie Price: B

Ronnie Price made his way into the starting lineup at the same time as Davis, and for the same reasons. And like Davis, it was his offense that stood out against the Thunder.

He scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, doing all of his damage in the first quarter. He stayed quiet the rest of the game, but his barrage to start the game helped set the tone early.

 

Rest of Team: B

The Lakers got some great contributions off the bench from former starters Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer.

The former looked confident on his drives, creating scoring opportunities for both himself and his teammates. He finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Boozer, meanwhile, got going late and scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds.

Jordan Hill also reached double figures, scoring 10 points in just 21 minutes.

 

Coming Up Next

The Lakers’ next game will be on the road, against the Sacramento Kings, Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. The Thunder will get the New Orleans Pelicans at home, Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.

 

Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him @AndrewDBailey.

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5 Statistics That Are Defining Los Angeles Clippers’ Season so Far

Statistics are an important part of analyzing a team’s strengths and weaknesses. The Los Angeles Clippers are no different, as the statistics clearly align with the problems that plague the team on the court.

Looking at point totals, or wins and losses, is an easy way to claim a team is good or bad. However, which statistics on the micro level define the macro results?

Does a team score a plethora of points each night because it plays at a fast tempo or because it scores efficiently? Is a team winning because of its defense or despite it?

There are five key statistics that corroborate what is visible when watching the Clippers play, analyzing their final scores and measuring wins and losses. These statistics tell the story of why they’re struggling and point to areas that are either strengths or areas for improvement.

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Indiana Pacers vs. Los Angeles Clippers 12/17/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Los Angeles Clippers looked to build a bit of momentum back on Wednesday when they took on the Indiana Pacers. The Clippers snapped a two-game skid their last time out and faced a Pacers squad that snapped an eight-game skid in its last contest. 

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