Kobe Bryant in his 17 years with the Lakers has established himself as one of the greatest NBA players to have played the game and arguably the greatest Laker ever. Kobe, in his time with the Lakers, led them to 7 NBA Finals and won 5 rings, being named Finals MVP two times and leading the league twice in scoring.
Kobe is 34 years old now, and has maybe two more seasons left within him. Even though he has managed to keep himself in great condition and still can keep up with the faster and younger guards, all these years in the league have definitely taken a toll on his body. Kobe has had his knee operated-on twice, and has a special knee plasma-therapy procedure done on his knee every off-season since 2010. Kobe also had to play through a broken finger, back problems and a broken nose in the last 2011-12 season. However great an athlete Bryant may be, he has to realize that playing through with such injuries isn’t something he can afford to do anymore.
Realistically, Kobe has two more seasons to win another ring and equal Jordan in terms of Championships won. But judging the way the Lakers roster is shaping up for the next season would definitely have him worried. The Lakers were convincingly beaten by the young and exuberant Thunder team 4-1 in their Conference Semi-finals. The most worrying thing for Kobe isn’t exactly the loss, but the manner of the loss. In the last game of the series against Thunder, the Black Mamba was at his imperious best scoring 42 points and putting up a great play-off performance. But it seemed that it was only Kobe who wanted to win. It was only Kobe who saw a distant chance of the Lakers beating the Thunder and coming back in the series. His supporting cast of Gasol, Bynum and World-Peace had just given up. The lack of desire and determination was something that bugged Bryant and led him to openly criticize the big duo of Bynum and Gasol for their lack of aggressiveness and desire.
Former Lakers star and legend Magic Johnson has called for a total revamp of the team and to get in a better and younger supporting cast to Bryant. However, comments by Lakers owner Jerry Buss and GM Mike Kupchak stating that the Lakers roster was good enough to win a Championship and didn’t need a total overhaul, have many of the Lakers faithful worried and disappointed.
The Lakers being a veteran team were expected to act actively in the NBA draft of 2012, to add younger players and strengthen the veteran squad. However, the Lakers were extremely inactive, drafting Darius Johnson-Odom, a guard out of Marquette, and a defensive specialist in Robert Sacre, a 7-foot tall center from Gonzana as the 55th and 60th picks in the draft. These players were no superstars on the college scene and their involvement with the Lakers would depend on how well they perform in the off-season camp.
Six of the Lakers players are free agents this summer (Ramon Sessions, Jordan Hill, Troy Murphy, Darius Morris, Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks) and thus the Lakers management has a task on their hands to decide on their roster for 2012-13 season. One can expect the Lakers to re-sign Hill, Barnes and Ebanks, but signing Sessions is something that the Lakers would have to consider.
Considering the possible re-signing of Hill, Barnes and Ebanks, the problems that haunted the Lakers would still remain. They still don’t have a point-guard who can take the pressure off Bryant and most importantly defend the fast and dynamic guards of the Western Conference like Westbrook, Ty Lawson, and Tony Parker. If the Lakers are to have any hope of winning the Western Conference, the point guard issue needs to be resolved.
The Lakers should also look to get some more productivity off the Small Forward position where both Barnes and World-Peace have proved ineffective. With Bryant, Gasol and Bynum drawing huge salaries, the Lakers are well above the luxury tax threshold of $70 million. Thus even though the Lakers have the option of landing a star point guard in Deron Williams or effective role-players in Nicholas Batum or Gerald Wallace, these players won’t come cheap and the Lakers are restricted in the free agency market with only an exception of $3 million. The Lakers also have the option of veteran guards such as Chauncey Billups, Nash and Andre Miller. However, these players are way beyond their prime and other than adding valuable experience and clutch plays; they won’t offer much in terms of speed in transition or defensive abilities.
So, the only way the Lakers can fill up the point guard and small forward positions is by looking for a possible trade of Gasol and Bynum. The two players are among the best big-men in the league and the Lakers only hope of filling up the voids in their roster. Gasol is the more probable player that the Lakers can trade, and with the Hawks and Timberwolves showing interest, the Lakers management can look to make a deal that helps them to build an effective roster for the next campaign. The vacancy that Gasol’s departure would cause can be aptly filled by a former Laker star in Lamar Odom. Odom has expressed his desire to play for the Lakers and his signing would definitely fill-up the void left by Gasol’s departure.
Among all this hysteria regarding trades and what the Lakers roster would look like in the next campaign, Bryant has all his focus directed towards the London Olympics and leading the USA to gold. However, Bryant would be actively following the developments in the Laker roster and hope that Lakers get in young and talented players who would complement Bryant’s game and suit up well with the plans of Coach Mike Brown. Whoever the Lakers Management sign through free agency or by pursuing trades, one can only hope that Bryant gets a supporting cast that he can lead to another championship title, and add another feather to the distinguished Lakers franchise.
Bryant however would be ever-hungry and would want to carry on with the same desire and determination. Bryant knows he will be up against great teams like the Miami Heat and the Thunder. And one can expect the Black Mamba to be prepared for the battle. Many would doubt his abilities at his age and with the team that he leads, but as Bryant has shown again and again, one can’t ever rule him out. Bryant is undoubtedly the most complete offensive player and the best finisher the game has ever seen, and the fear of failure is something that is alien to him.
Bryant has always said that his ultimate goal is to be the best player that he could ever be, to be the best player ever. He is definitely the closest that the league has ever seen to Jordan, and though many pundits would never give him the same status as Jordan, winning a sixth ring would definitely put him in legitimate comparison with Jordan. Kobe has always shied away from comparisons to Jordan, but one can easily see that his quest to win a 6th ring is driven from his desire to win a place alongside Jordan, as the greatest shooting-guards to have played the game.