Expected to finish 12th in the Western Conference this season, the Los Angeles Lakers are working to rebuild the franchise in 2014 rather than win this year. They may have to dump Kobe Bryant to do so.
At least, that’s what ESPN’s infamous Kobe-hater Henry Abbott thinks.
The Lakers have little chance of signing championship-caliber players in the 2014 free agency. Even Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak went on the record during Colin Cowhered’s ESPN LA radio show, saying “I don’t know if we’ll get a star player” during next year’s free agency.
According to Abbott, it’s Bryant’s fault. Abbott argues that the main reason why the Lakers won’t land a star player is because “Bryant has gained a reputation as a difficult teammate.”
This is wrong. The biggest stars available in the 2014 free agency are LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Both players have played with Bryant on the U.S. Olympic team. Both players have voiced only respect for Bryant—not reluctance to play on the same team as him.
The real reason why the Lakers most likely won’t sign James or Anthony is because neither of the players have incentives to play for the Lakers.
Both James and Anthony will remain under contract with their respective teams. That means neither is guaranteed to become an unrestricted free agent in 2014. This contractual obligation exemplifies both James’ and Anthony’s commitment to their franchises.
Anthony has already said he’s “not going nowhere” in 2014. He enjoys playing for the New York Knicks. James likewise sees success in his future should he stay with the Miami Heat. In the three seasons he’s played for the Heat, James has won an Eastern Conference Championship and two consecutive NBA championships, not to mention a collection of accolades, including league MVP.
Should James leave the Heat, it wouldn’t be just to win more championships or improve his personal “brand,” but rather to accomplish something more personal, like a return to his hometown to play for the Cleveland Caveliers in order to rectify the catastrophe known as “The Decision.”
Besides, the Lakers are looking to find a star on which they can build their franchise “post-Kobe.” A new Lakers star would only have to play with Bryant for a season or two.
The second reason why Abbott blames Bryant for the Lakers’ woes is Bryant’s reported refusal to take a pay cut. But again, Abbott’s claim relies on assumption rather than on facts. Here’s what Bryant actually said when he was asked about taking a pay cut in order to play with the Lakers after his contract expires:
“I’m not taking any at all—that’s the negotiation that you have to have. For me to sit here and say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just going to take a huge pay cut.’ Nah, I’m going to try to get as much as I possibly can.”
Bryant clarifies his statement to reporters by defining his claim to “not taking any” pay cut at all as a strategy for his negotiation, not as a requirement.
The Lakers may not get a star player next year. And after losing Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets, the Lakers have no one to lead the franchise once Bryant retires. It’s exactly because the Lakers have no other star player right now that the Lakers must keep Bryant, not dump him.
Lucas Rubio is a columnist for RantSports.com and author of the Playerz League Sports Blog. Follow him on Twitter @PlayerzLeague.