There’s no doubt it’s been a very forgettable year for the Los Angeles Lakers.
However, while fans may feel they have suffered enough watching their team mired in mediocrity, the fact is the Lakers have not gone far enough in their losing ways. A major rebuild is in order, and that means ridding the team of underachievers to make way for young draft talent.
The likes of Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, Jordan Farmar and Chris Kaman stand out as players the Lakers need to offload. All of those players could be traded for draft picks, which would in the process free up some cap space.
With Bryant’s contract making a big free-agent splurge unlikely (and unwise), the Lakers will be better off looking to pick up a top rookie prospect. Boosting their draft position, however, will require the Lakers to do what many fans consider heresy—tank.
The very idea horrifies supporters who feel that team's history and culture is too proud to condone a strategy of throwing in the towel. Although that view may sound more palatable to some, the fact of the matter is that tanking is the most logical course, especially if the Lakers wish to give Kobe the chance at another realistic title run.
The new CBA forces big-market teams to rebuild through the draft with low salary-cap pieces. If the Lakers want to be in the market for a big free agent this year or the next, signing more rookies on lower salaries makes the best sense.
This is especially true if the Lakers tank enough to give themselves a better chance at grabbing Kansas big man Joel Embiid with the No. 1 pick. Pairing that kind of elite talent with a healthy Bryant would instantly revitalize the franchise, while leaving the Lakers with room to work in the free-agency market—which could, of course, potentially mean LeBron James being enticed into the chance of winning a championship in L.A.
In short, as difficult as it may be for some to accept, the most logical course of action for the Lakers as far as the rest of the season is concerned seems obvious. The front office needs to offload the team’s higher earners, and Kobe needs to be kept on the sidelines and allowed to heal fully.
The Lakers and their fans will just have to accept a slide into the basement of the standings, but such a strategy just might give the Lakers their best chance of winning in the long run.