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Lakers must balance development of youngsters with farewell to Kobe Bryant

Lakers must balance development of youngsters with farewell to Kobe Bryant

Los Angeles Lakers’ Julius Randle, right, and Golden State Warriors’ Harrison Barnes reach for a rebound during the first half on Thursday.

(Ben Margot / AP)

Buried below the public displays of affection between Kobe Bryant and Jerry West, three younger Lakers quietly scored more than half the team’s points.

Thursday’s game against Golden State marked a much-deserved night of reflection for Bryant and West, his former mentor who is now a Warriors consultant. But it also exposed the root of a continuing Lakers problem — how can the development of their five young players be properly balanced with the long-lasting goodbye to their oldest?

Bryant limped around the court for 28 minutes, slowed by a sore Achilles’ tendon that he declined to acknowledge as a problem. He made three of his first five shots, which was fine, and then missed nine of his last 10 to finish with eight points.

Meanwhile, Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points while Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell each had 14 in a 116-98 Lakers loss.

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TNT’s Charles Barkley reminded everybody of the big picture during a brief analysis of Thursday’s game.

“The Lakers have to build for the future,” he said. “I know this is Kobe’s farewell tour, but Byron Scott has to coach.”

Scott continues to be in a tough spot. His loyalty to Bryant spans two decades, but he has one more guaranteed year on his contract and needs to show progress with the future corps.

Randle has been in a monthlong funk. The Lakers still think the No. 7 pick from the 2014 draft can be a very good NBA player. It just might not happen this season. More work is needed on his outside shot, the type that needs months and months of individual attention.

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Russell, unlike Randle, has shown some spark since losing his starting job five weeks ago. But Scott is unwilling to put him back in the starting lineup with the Lakers playing better in recent games and Lou Williams recently scoring 44 points against Oklahoma City.

Clarkson continues to be the Lakers’ best player. His progress will cost the Lakers some money when he becomes a restricted free agent after this season. They plan to keep him.

Anthony Brown hasn’t done much, not that much was expected from the second-round pick last spring.

Larry Nance Jr. has been the surprise of the young five, leaping his way into highlight clips and showing outside touch Randle can only hope to achieve. He’s the one who received the kindest words from TNT analyst Reggie Miller.

“When it is all said and done and we look at their careers, Larry Nance Jr. may be the more advanced out of all these players,” Miller said. “He has the most energy.”

The Lakers (9-32) have never been this bad at the season’s halfway point. Scott has an unenviable balancing act ahead of him, starting Saturday in Utah.

Bryant on the NFL

In case you were wondering, Bryant said he was “very excited” about the NFL returning to Los Angeles.

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“But, you know, I’m always going to have my green helmet,” he said, obviously not giving up on his Philadelphia Eagles fandom.

LAKERS NEXT UP

AT UTAH

When: 6 p.m. PST Saturday.

Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena.

On the air: TV: TWC SportsNet, TWC Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.

Records: Lakers 9-32, Jazz 17-22.

Record vs. Jazz: 0-1.

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Update: The Lakers lost to Utah last Sunday, 86-74, in a numbingly mundane game at Staples Center. The Lakers shot 28.6% in the first half, 32.6% overall and found a different way to lose — only 10 players suited up because of a) injuries and b) the timing of a Development League event. Ryan Kelly and Tarik Black were unable to return from a D-League game in Santa Cruz in time for tipoff.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan


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