Welcome to the end of Kobe Bryant’s career.
Twenty years have been reduced to two months for one of the game’s greatest ever, and it won’t be the only story tracked by Lakers followers now that the All-Star break has ended.
There are plenty of threads to be tied up (or not) between now and April 13, the official end of Bryant’s career and, mercifully, the Lakers’ numbingly poor season.
Will this also be Coach Byron Scott’s final season with the Lakers?
He is expected to coach the rest of this season, and some within the organization wonder what Scott might do with a better roster. The one he has now has produced an 11-44 record, second-worst in the NBA.
Others, however, wonder about the effectiveness of the tough love he administers to the team’s many young players.
Something in Scott’s favor: more talent could arrive by late June. The Lakers have a better-than-expected chance of retaining their top-three protected draft pick and will then have about $55 million to spend on free agents.
Something not in Scott’s favor: the Lakers have shown little hesitation in parting with coaches before their contracts expire. Mike Brown was fired with almost three years left on his contract and Mike D’Antoni was handed more than half of the $4 million he was owed after resigning in 2014.
Scott is in the second season of a four-year, $17-million contract.
What about that lottery pick?
The Lakers currently have a 55.8% chance of retaining the first-round pick they owe for the Steve Nash trade in 2012. When the season began in late October, nobody envisioned it being worse than their 21-win campaign a year ago. Somehow, it is.
The stretch of sunlight dropping into the basement would deliver is a legitimate chance at landing Louisiana State forward Ben Simmons or Duke forward Brandon Ingram, the consensus top two amateur players.
The Lakers probably won’t drop below Philadelphia (8-45) for the league’s worst record, but also seem unlikely to pass Brooklyn (14-40) and Phoenix (14-40) in the standings.
If everything remains the same, the Lakers have a 19.9% chance at the top pick and an 18.8% chance at the second pick at the May lottery.
How much can the young ones improve?
The Lakers continue to be in the awkward position of letting Bryant play out the string while trying to develop Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, etc.
Bryant is taking a team-high 16.7 shots a game and making only 34.9% of them, a formula for many empty possessions and fewer opportunities for the inexperienced players.
Regardless, Randle has improved lately by putting up a string of double-doubles as his outside shot shows more consistency. Russell, though, has run hot and cold, more recently warm while averaging 14.8 points and 3.2 assists in five games this month.
Of the two other Lakers rookies, Larry Nance Jr. will try to come back soon from a weeks-long battle with a sore knee and Anthony Brown hasn’t received significant time.
Second-year guard Jordan Clarkson seems oblivious to the losing, not to mention Bryant’s erratic play, and has scored in double figures in a career-best 23 consecutive games. He’ll likely be rewarded with a nice contract extension from the Lakers as a restricted free agent this summer.
What will the final 27 games mean for Bryant?
He’s running out of goodbyes around the league, the Lakers facing only 10 more road games.
He’s been insightful, humorous and gracious while making the rounds, delighting crowds from Philadelphia, where they used to hate him, to Boston, where they still hate him but were respectful for at least a minute.
Unfortunately for Bryant, his goodwill hasn’t led to many victories. That probably won’t change.
It’s his world, and the Lakers are simply living in it for 56 more days.
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