There is no doubt, the Lakers are one of the premier dynastic programs in all of basketball, or even professional sports. Because the NBA has always been player and character driven, winning and losing generally has three components: star player(s), strong supporting cast, and celebrity coach. From a public relations perspective, the idea that a team CAN compete for a title is enough to put butts in the seats and keep fans coming back for more.
But what happens when a team loses its “face,” when a superstar finally decides to hang it up? For programs like the Lakers, retooling is part of their genius. From Kareem to Magic to Shaq to Kobe, the Lakers have an unbroken line of Hall of Fame talent, players that ALWAYS guarantee at least a shot at a title.
But who do the Lakers have waiting in the wings as the league-changing phenom that is Kobe Bryant closes in on the latter years of his career? Management seems to be committed to finding out. In a recent match against the Minnesota Timberwolves – the season opener to be exact – the Lakers had the ball on the final possession. There was Bryant, with the ball in his familiar hands … standing in an unfamiliar spot: out of bounds waiting to pass the ball to … Lou Williams?
Bryant tossed, Williams shot … and the ball clanged harmlessly off the rim. There would be no kingmaking moment in that season opener. But there would be Bryant, head down, trudging back to the locker room and an uncertain future.
He was not the only one in the arena that night uncertain. Fans stared in disbelief. Was their hero being banished? Was this a harbinger of Things to Come in L.A.?
Bryant said all the right things after the game. It was a good look. Williams had a great game coming off the bench. Blah, blah, blah. Is there anyone, watching then or reading now who believes Bryant didn’t want that shot?
Ask yourself, how many of Michael Jordan’s defining moments came with the ball in his hands just before the buzzer. The moment is so etched in our collective consciousness as to be cliché. Every kid with basketball dreams practices that shot in his driveway or at the local park countless times growing up. There is no more indicative decision about who leads a team than who gets the last shot. Sure, Bryant won’t always be The Guy. Otherwise, opposing defenses would just camp out on him. But isn’t that what coaches want? The next best thing to an open star on the floor is a double or triple teamed star, leaving a shot wide open for guys like Williams.
Kobe was not even on the floor. And that has LA fans scratching their heads … and wondering.
Roman Temkin is a mobile entrepreneur who is a sports fanatic.