Just what long-suffering… OK, it hasn’t really been that long… Laker fans were yearning for, an inspiring victory that starts a (brief) winning streak!
Losing is hard, Lakerdom is discovering the hard way. Say, you end a seven-game losing streak in Cleveland despite running out of players and learning you have to keep five out there, even if they’re only Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall, Wesley Johnson and Steve Blake.
That’s good, right?
Of course, Laker fans were exhilarated… except for the fact it meant a two-game swing, moving the Lakers a game ahead of the Cavaliers in the standings or a game behind them in the race for the worst record and the best lottery odds.
Small swings tilt the odds dramatically. Last season, the fourth-worst team had a 37% chance of drawing one of the top three picks. The sixth-worst had a 21% chance for falling two places.
In the really bad news, or however you choose to characterize it, the win over the Cavs showed the Lakers are not tanking.
I know, it often looks like they are with Pau Gasol in and out of the lineup, amid speculation management is shopping him around the league.
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More to the point, there’s Kobe Bryant, gamer of gamers, whose expected Feb. 1 return was set back while he does non-weight-bearing exercises for at least three weeks —- the next time he’ll be examined.
If that sounds like Bryant is getting with the tanking program and more delays may be in the offing, insiders say they’re not. Kobe intends to return, which means the Lakers will win more games.
More good/bad news! With their point guards back, the Lakers are likely to finish closer to 30 wins than 20. A 30-52 record would have been ninth worst last season, giving the Lakers a 6.1% chance of drawing one of the top three picks.
Disappointing as that may sound, there are more things the Lakers care about than setting up their draft choice.
Bryant’s comeback – If he’s getting $48.5 million the next two years, he’d better be able to play.
Coming back this season — when he’s ready and not before — gives him the best chance. Sitting the rest of the season and trying another comeback next season at 36 wouldn’t be as good as playing six weeks, getting himself back in game condition.
Point guards – It could be Steve Nash for one more season, if they don’t need the cap room (he makes $9.7 million next season but could be cut and his money stretched out over three seasons, giving them an extra $6 million this summer).
As well as Blake has played, it’s not likely to be him unless he signs short-term for. Teams will line up to offer the veteran’s exception, which goes up to $5 million for non-tax-paying teams.
As much as the Lakers appreciate Blake, the $5 mill it would take to match that would come out of the money they’re saving to offer Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and, yes, Kevin Durant, among the free agents in their 2015-2016 time frame.
Management is still pulling for Jordan Farmar, who has grown up and still holds his old promise, even if he has had little chance to show it.
Farmar’s injury – Shortened season will limit bids. This is home for him. If they can re-sign him short-term or cheap, they could wind up with another Nick Young-sized bargain.
Nick Young – Best advertisement for Kobe in the NBA. Total adolescent until coming into Bryant’s orb. Now a total bargain at $1.2 million next season.
Kelly – Mitch Kupchak is OK if he can draft a real player at No. 48, but Kelly has the potential to fill the key stretch four role in Mike D’Antoni’s offense.
And he would only cost $1,016,482. If you want to know what the ideal Laker role player will look like for the next season or two, Kelly is it.
Jodie Meeks – Has played too well not to be cited but but he’s like Blake. He’ll get too many bigger offers to stay, unless he makes a big sacrifice.
D’Antoni – The least popular man in Lakerdom and definitely the most under-appreciated.
Not that he hired himself instead of Phil Jackson. Ownership — still led by Jerry Buss at that point — did that.
All D’Antoni has done is keep them as respectable as you can be starting Sacre, Marshall, et al., between injuries to Bryant, Nash, Blake and Farmar, the humblest lineups ever fielded by this franchise.
All signs are that Laker management stands behind him and will bring him back next season. If so, he’ll have done it the old-fashioned way. He’ll have earned it.
Damian Lillard – No, the Lakers can’t get him. I bring his name up only to demonstrate the possibility of lucking into a great player that a bunch of teams have passed up. Lillard went No. 6 to Portland after No. 2 Charlotte took Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, No. 3 Washington took Bradley Beal, No. 4 Cleveland took Dion Waiters and No. 5 Sacramento took Thomas Robinson.
The most overlooked value in the NBA is what you get in the draft, relative to where you pick.
Imagine the Spurs without Tony Parker (No. 28 in 2001), Manu Ginobili (No. 57, 1999) and Kawhi Leonard (No. 15, 2011) acquired from Indiana in a trade for George Hill (No. 26, 2008).
So even if the Lakers win out, miss the playoffs by a game and cement themselves in the No. 14 draft slot, cheer up. A journey that will take at least two more years, probably more like three, and on which there are no guarantees of getting anywhere, proceeds day by earnest day.
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