It’s exciting to be a Los Angeles Lakers fan again. After a season to forget, there’s reason for optimism. The team drafted promising rookie Julius Randle, there are reports that Carmelo Anthony is strongly considering joining the purple and gold, according to Yahoo Sports reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, and the much-maligned Mike D’Antoni is out as head coach.
But most importantly, Kobe Bryant says he’s 100 percent healthy, as reported by Yahoo Sports, and Lakers fans know that when he’s at the top of his game, everything else tends to fall into place. The question the team needs to address then, is how they can help him get back to the top of his game and keep him there over the next two seasons.
It won’t be easy. Despite their efforts, Lakers management has ventured into one unsuccessful endeavor after another since their last championship in 2010. Fortunately, the slate is clean and a vision is slowly taking form. That Bryant’s talents need to be maximized is evident; how to go about this is the challenge.
Here are some ideas, all of which apply irregardless of whether Anthony joins L.A or not.
Hire the right coach
Bryant has played long enough that it’s not hard to imagine what kind of coach will be effective alongside him.
First and foremost, the new coach needs to have credibility—real credibility, not the superficial kind that Mike D’Antoni boasted. That means sustained playoff success or a demonstrated mind for the game that former players like Jeff Hornacek and Derek Fisher have displayed.
Secondly, the new coach should have the respect, but not necessarily the friendship, of Bryant. Jackson and Bryant weren't best friends during their years together, but they undoubtedly respected each other’s talents. And finally, the coach needs to have a system in mind to maximize Bryant’s skill set, a facet of the Lakers strategy that needs further elaboration.
The Right System
Whoever the coach is needs to have a clear vision and system to properly execute that vision. And no, it doesn't have to be the triangle.
The system will ideally be one that places emphasis on both sides of the ball, not just offense, as was the case with D’Antoni, or defense, as was the case with Mike Brown. In order for Bryant, and the team, to be successful, the system needs to be all-encompassing. This could mean a variety of things.
For instance, a system that might work in Bryant’s favor is a slowed-down, half-court game. As long as the ball movement is crisp, fluid and purposeful, such a system might work given Bryant’s intellect and basketball savvy. On the other hand, a more fast-breaking, up-tempo strategy might work as well, particularly if it results in plenty of easy buckets, which will lessen the isolation burden on Bryant in the half court.
The systems employed by the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls are what make those teams so successful. Whoever is on the roster can be plugged in and play a role because the system allows them to be effective, either on offense or defense. Although, that's not to suggest that the caliber of the players isn't important. Indeed, player personnel might be the most critical factor in making Bryant's final two years as productive as possible.
The Right Players
Well, the Lakers had open tryouts last season and have little to show for it. Nick Young was a nice surprise, and Kendall Marshall and Kent Bazemore drew some attention, but that’s about the extent of the good news. MarShon Brooks, Wesley Johnson, and Xavier Henry all showed flashes of potential but didn't take advantage of their opportunities to showcase that they could contribute to a winning team.
Next season, the team’s experiment with possibly/hopefully good players should end. Along with the right head coach and the right system, the Lakers need the right players to complement Bryant. Drafting Randle was certainly a nice start, as he has the ability to contribute right away as a hard-nosed, skilled interior player. This team will need his youth and energy, and more of the same from other players.
Some potential free-agent signings that come to mind include skilled shot-blocker Ed Davis, big man Greg Monroe, the electric Eric Bledsoe and underrated Chandler Parsons.
But the team will also need experienced, veteran players in addition to the younger, athletic ones. A few that the team should consider are Trevor Ariza, Vince Carter, Channing Frye and Emeka Okafor.
Each player mentioned above is of a certain ilk. Specifically, they are high-IQ players. As the Spurs demonstrated so beautifully during this year’s playoffs, having savvy, intelligent players more than makes up for a lack of athleticism. But having a bit of both is what ultimately brings a team success in both the short and long term and all of these players bring unique talents to the roster.
Of course the team, and Bryant, would love to have Carmelo come on board. But with or without him, Lakers fans know that next season is about ensuring Bryant comes back and takes his place among the league’s greatest and takes the team along for the ride.
Follow Justin Bedi on Twitter at @RealJustinBedi.