New face(s) of the Lakers?
It’s almost the end of the Kobe Bryant era. Possibly in marketing, too.
In a sign of the times, electronic billboards near the Las Vegas Strip featured Julius Randle standing in front of Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. Not pictured: Bryant.
The same image was promoted on a large indoor pillar at the MGM Grand Hotel, the site of the Lakers’ exhibition Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings, along with the catchphrase “The Next Generation” in big block letters.
Smaller versions of the promotion were posted near some of the hotel’s elevators.
The Lakers acknowledged they created the campaign, not MGM in an attempt to sell game tickets, but the team added a caveat.
“Certainly we’re very high on our young players, and interested in promoting them as the future of our team,” Lakers spokesman John Black said Tuesday. “It should not be seen as a slight towards Kobe in any way. At the time we committed to this promotional campaign, we weren’t sure he’d be back from his injury. Now that he’s fully healthy, we’ll be focusing on promoting him and celebrating his 20th season as a Laker.”
Bryant, 37, has appeared in all five Lakers exhibitions since being medically cleared four weeks ago. He sustained a torn rotator cuff in January, cutting short a third consecutive season because of injury.
He left Tuesday’s game early in the third quarter after getting kneed in the lower left leg and sustaining a bruise. The injury is not considered serious. He had 10 points on four-for-12 shooting in Sacramento’s 107-100 victory and should be ready to play Saturday against Golden State.
Bryant did not talk to reporters afterward but Lakers Coach Byron Scott said simply, “He’s fine.”
The Lakers are in an unusual marketing position with Bryant. He is in the final year of his contract but won’t decide about retirement until after this season.
No in-depth tributes have been planned yet and he would be aghast if there was a so-called rocking-chair tour during the season. He’s not that type of guy, never confused for being syrupy or sappy.
Bryant has been honored in more subtle ways so far, the Lakers putting his picture on every ticket for home games this season.
At the same time, the “Next Generation” promotion makes sense. The Lakers are wise to sell the future, seeing how the recent past hasn’t been so hot.
The promotion connected with Clarkson, the best of the young trio now.
“First of all, I was surprised. I think that’s my first time on something like that,” Clarkson said. “I thought it was pretty cool.”
He also didn’t necessarily think this was Bryant’s final season. “The way he’s playing right now, you never know,” Clarkson said.
Before Tuesday, Bryant averaged 13.8 points in limited playing time while shooting a more-than-respectable 48.6%.
One thing is still the same from last season — leaky defense. The Lakers surrendered 88 points in three quarters even though Kings All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins rested on the bench the whole game. Last season, the Lakers allowed an average of 105.3 points, second-worst in the league.
Clarkson had 17 points and Randle had 10 points, four rebounds and six assists but also four turnovers.
Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter @Mike_Bresnahan
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