Lakers caught between Kobe Bryant's past and young players' future

Lakers caught between Kobe Bryant's past and young players' future
Lakers Coach Byron Scott talks to rookie guard D'Angelo Russell with Kobe Bryant nearby during a game Nov. 1. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Lakers Coach Byron Scott calls his treatment of Julius Randle "tough love," and tough is the appropriate word to describe this seemingly endless season.

Making the slightest progress has been tough for the Lakers, who dropped to 8-28 Tuesday after they allowed the defending champion Golden State Warriors to stroll off with a 109-88 victory at a quickly emptied Staples Center.

Losing to the Warriors is no shame, and the Lakers on Tuesday didn't have Kobe Bryant (sore shoulder) or D'Angelo Russell (sore throat). What's difficult to accept is that management has allowed this to become a lost season. In that regard, at least, they're succeeding.

When General Manager Mitch Kupchak told season-ticket holders last Sunday, "We cannot move on as a team until Kobe leaves…. This is a year that's dedicated to Kobe and his farewell," he essentially said tough luck if you expected to see the development of young players because this season is all about Bryant. Everyone gets a free pass because Bryant gets to dictate his minutes, which affects the surrounding cast.

Kupchak and Scott should be learning what Russell and Randle can do as starters or while playing 30 minutes a game, the better to assess what the team's assets will be. Instead, the Lakers remain locked in the past, making the present much tougher to take.

When most great players retire they get a car, a boat, or a vacation trip as a gift. Bryant is getting an entire NBA season, at the cost of a chunk of the Lakers' future.

Which brings us back to Randle, the 2014 lottery pick who was projected to be a big part of that future.

The power forward's timetable was delayed when he broke his leg in his first game last season, and he lost his starting job a month ago. Scott criticized him for playing lax defense and for pouting after he was pulled off the floor Sunday, and Randle felt he was unfairly singled out. The pouting angered Scott more than the defensive failings, and that's reasonable. Scott knows what it's like to be a young player trying to establish himself with the Lakers, but the parallels end there.

"I can't compare these kids to us. Back in the day it was totally different. I went to school for three years," Scott said, referring to Randle's one-and-done experience at Kentucky. "We didn't have AAU basketball. Our high school coaches were big influences on us. So it's a different age. It's a different time.

"Julius, even though I said the other day he has to grow up and has to be a little bit more mature, it's the truth, but he's a guy that I love. I love his energy. I love how hard he plays. And I just want him to continue to grow in that department, but I want him to continue to grow as a man as well because it's not going to always go your way, and you've got to be able to handle that adversity as well."

Scott's tough-love concept has worked with second-year guard Jordan Clarkson, who has improved in key areas. After averaging 11.9 points a game last season he's up to 15 points, second on the team to Bryant's 17.2. But one approach doesn't fit all.

Center Roy Hibbert said he didn't see the specific mistake by Randle last Sunday but said, speaking generally, that Randle needs time to learn. "He's way ahead of the curve, sitting out for a year, watching. I think he's been doing really well," Hibbert said. "But this is his rookie season and you have your ups and downs. You have your hiccups. This is like a minor blip in the whole grand scheme of things."

Hibbert recalled being fortunate in his early years with the Indiana Pacers to get guidance from veterans Jeff Foster, Rasho Nesterovic, Earl Watson and Jarrett Jack. He believes Randle has similar support.

"From what I see here in the locker room, there's nothing but guys that want to see all the young guys succeed," Hibbert said.

If that's true — and if Randle is receptive to their advice — this season could become a little less tough to take.


Twitter: @helenenothelen