Kobe Bryant sat out for the second game in a row, and has missed three out of the last four as the Portland Trail Blazers discarded the Lakers Sunday night. Kobe has played in 32 of the Los Angeles Lakers' 38 total games. They've gone 10-22 with Kobe and 2-4 without him. Whatever ones feelings are on if the Lakers are better with or without Kobe, this is clearly a horrible team regardless. The Lakers sit at 14th in the super-competitive Western Conference, nine games out of a playoff spot, and no rational person thinks they have any prayer of beating out New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, or San Antonio for one of those last two spots.
On a related note, as most have heard, this years draft is loaded with talent like Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Emmanuel Mudiay, among others, making a top-five draft pick as valuable as ever. The Lakers as an organization would never admit to tanking, but the roster they put together this season was clearly not meant to be competitive. This collection of limited-at-best defensive players (other than Ed Davis) was never going to be capable of getting enough stops to pile wins no matter how many times Byron Scott told reporters he was a defensive-minded head coach.
It's time to embrace the future and do whatever is necessary to secure their draft pick, which means shutting Kobe Bryant down for the season. There is no benefit to continue risking injury to the Lakers' franchise icon and $48 million investment. While Bryant's usage since returning from his first rest period has been admittedly much more reasonable, what's the benefit to continuing down this path? Kobe has shown he can still play at a high level if managed sensibly, so why not use what miles he has left on his tires next season, when the franchise will be more competitive?
The Lakers are currently ranked fourth in the #TankRank, and are unlikely to drop much lower in the standings given that the three teams below them in the race to the bottom all "boast" single digits in the win column. Orlando and Utah loom just above the Lakers, and Boston is closing fast as they send any good player not on a rookie contract elsewhere in exchange for picks and cap space. The Lakers need to make moves now to avoid being caught, and first on the list is sitting Kobe down and saving him for next season.
Next -- and the Lakers may already be doing this -- the team needs to find new homes for some of the group of Jordan HIll, Ed Davis, and Jeremy Lin. The front office is unlikely to move all of these players, but one or two of them should be jettisoned to a contender in exchange for some type of draft pick or prospect compensation. These three are helpful players, and should be sent elsewhere to keep them from helping the Lakers get wins that actually hurt more than help. Recent waiver wire claim Tarik Black's breakout over the past two games has made it especially defensible to trade Hill and Davis under the excuse of relieving a front court logjam. This would open up more minutes for the front office to see what they have in Ryan Kelly and Black. Also, while the team basically knows what it has in Sacre -- and I like him as a fourth/insurance big -- him playing extended minutes will lead to more losses that could help the Lakers in the long-term.
If Lin is not shipped off, and really even if he is, Ronnie Price should be benched to open up more minutes at the point guard position. The Lakers didn't cut Price before his contract was guaranteed last Wednesday, so he will likely remain on the team for the rest of the season. This does not mean he has to play, and the Lakers should redistribute his minutes to Jordan Clarkson as well as looking at call-ups from the D-League. While these prospects may struggle this season, it 's not like Price has been great either, and at least the young guys would have a chance to be a helpful player for the Lakers down the road. These struggles would also lead to more losses, which in the perverse world of NBA rebuilding, are also a good thing.
The arguments against tanking are fair. It risks creating a "losing culture" and building bad habits in players. But the players almost certain to remain with the team for next year are Kobe (not going to develop any new habits at this stage), Nick Young (same), Julius Randle (injured, spends limited time with the team and none on the court), Ryan Kelly, Jordan Clarkson and Robert Sacre (interesting pieces, but not likely to swing the team's fortunes one way or the other regardless of their habits). Therefore, with this roster, the benefits of deploying the tank far outweigh the potential risks. Hopefully, for the sake of the team's future, Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak, and the Lakers front office will soon come to the same conclusion. Good job, good effort, but it's time to shift gears.