In a month's time, Kobe Bryant will no longer be a professional basketball player. He won't be any more of a professional basketball player than you, me or the guy sitting in the office next to you. He'll just be a guy who used to have a job. He won't be a Los Angeles Laker. Or at least, not in the way we've always remembered him.
We have one more month to cherish those memories and see Kobe enchant us a scant few more times. Just over a dozen more games on the farewell tour, one that's so close to completion that I can safely say it has been one of the most memorable of all time. Very few professional athletes have ever gotten the send-off that Bryant is getting. Very few get to walk to the finish line--most have it brought to them in a doctor's office or slowly fade away to the point that no one ever cares that they got there.
Kobe's exit season has been one for the ages. One that Lakers fans will never forget.
Even though they should. Because this Lakers team that we're watching is an absolute abomination.
Make no mistake--this type of losing happens, even for the mighty Lakers. Though it's not historically a part of their culture, almost every NBA franchise bottoms out. Veterans leave, retire or become ineffective. Free agent signings become busts. Trades don't work out. Guys get hurt. Things happen. It just hasn't happened for this length of time for this particular franchise. It has now. But I'm not upset about that. I'm not upset about the status of the team.
The Lakers must build around young guys. They had to lose in order to get better through the draft. They have to save their cap space for when the time is right to attack on free agents. It is imperative that they give a bunch of teenagers and twenty-somethings court time when they're obviously not ready for it. All these things must happen. I have no illusions about that.
But this team--the quality of this team--is absolutely, 100% unacceptable.
This squad is horrible. They are on pace for 17 wins. In order to avoid last season's franchise-worst mark of 21-61, they would have to go 7-7 over their final 14 games, which looks damn near impossible. In regard to wins and losses, there is almost no question that they are going to be the worst Lakers team of all time. And not just by a little. By a lot.
Defensively, this is matching up to be the worst team ever in regard to efficiency. No Lakers team has ever given up more points per possession, ever. This squad is on pace to be the worst offensively efficient team since the late 70s, before there was a 3-point line. Yes, this is the worst Lakers scoring unit ever in the 3-point era. On a game to game basis, this team is near unwatchable. They don't play any defense and have zero offensive game plan. Handing over the reins of the team to a group of guys who should still be in college is a conceptual win for the franchise, but for the current on-court product, it's only leading to actual losses. By the dozens. And dozens. And dozens.
Despite the Lakers' proud history, the Southland has seen its fair share of horrible ball. Even still, this team is one of the very worst squads that has ever come out of LA, for any franchise. And that's saying a lot. Only the 9-41 1999 Clippers, the 12-70 1988-89 Clippers and the 15-67 Clippers had worse winning percentages in the City of Angels than the current Lake Show. When you're wading into territory even the Clips shudder at, you know you're in a bad place.
And the worst part here? This team wasn't built to be the worst ever. Last year's was. The 2014-2015 Lakers were racked with expiring contracts and placeholder players. Guys like Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson and Wayne Ellington weren't around for the long haul. They were bandages. Temporary and disposable. But for the sake of bottoming out, getting a high draft pick and clearing cap space for this past summer, they did the trick. And boy, did they ever. Night to night, it was by far the most excruciating experience I've ever had watching Lakers basketball. The players were wholly unlikeable and you knew that almost no one was going to be around for the long haul. Julius Randle broke his leg in the first game of the season, and metaphorically, our spirit for the year went with him off the court. The lineups changed seemingly every game and the team's future had no shape. It was awful.
That was the worst Lakers team of all time. Until now.
The 2015-2016 Lakers were built to be marginally better. With guys like Lou Williams and Brandon Bass on multi-year deals, it was clear the front office wanted to bring in some veterans with experience to bolster the youngsters and hopefully bring more of a winning edge to the court. Roy Hibbert was acquired on the cheap to help one of the league's worst defenses that badly needed a shot blocker and paint protector. Even Metta World Peace ,who didn't even play in the league last season, was given a roster spot at the expense of a young Jabari Brown in order to mentor the first and second year players.
But this team has somehow performed worse than last year's injury-laden roster. They are an embarrassment to the franchise. They don't defend. They have no plan on offense. They don't share the ball. They make stupid mistakes all game long.
It's not that they're bad--every franchise has bad teams from time to time. Some more often than others. It's that they're unacceptably bad.
That's the key word here: unacceptable. I find this season absolutely unacceptable from a basketball standpoint. No Lakers team, no matter where they are in their rebuilding, should play so haphazardly on both ends of the floor without any discernible direction or identity. No Lakers team should be fitted with so many veterans, and still play like a bunch of dudes who just met on a high school court for pick-up ball. No Lakers team should be this aimless. It is an embarrassment.
Some of this blame is on the front office for assembling such a confounding roster. Some of it goes on Byron Scott and his coaching staff for seemingly creating no defensive or offensive game plan whastsoever. Some of it goes on both of those factions for allowing Kobe to take such a prominent role despite his very obvious physical limitations. It's not easy to parse out exactly what percentage of blame goes to who, but it easy to understand that it's shared amongst the organization as a whole.
But what I do not understand is how the Lakers fanbase has seemingly allowed the unacceptable to become acceptable.
I am flat out pissed off. This team has been so horribly assembled and pitifully coached. The Lakers have established a standard of overwhelming excellence over the past seven decades. Even when they were bad, they were still respectably bad. Nothing about this team suggests respectability or excellence of any kind. And yet, I'm not hearing the outrage from my fellow Lakers fans.
All I hear about is Kobe's farewell tour. How he said goodbye to another city. How the losses need to rack up for a top draft pick. How D'Angelo is improving. How Luke Walton might be our next coach. How Kevin Durant might be interested in the Lakers next season.
How are fans not talking about how incredibly unacceptable this is?
They're busy saying goodye to Kobe, well deserved as it may be. They're pleased with the development of the young guys like Jordan Clarkson, Russell, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr., especially with as unexpected as it looked early in the year. They're focused on a potential top-3 pick coming to the team and fortifying an already promising young core.
These are all good reasons. Some of them are great reasons. The Lakers fan base is busy this year celebrating the past and getting excited for the future. Right now, we can look at the court and be proud of where we've been and get fired up for where we're going. Decades of wins and potentially, several championship eras are meeting on the hardwood at the same time. That's unbelievable. A fantastic notion.
But ultimately, it's just a placebo. A flare to distract us from what's happening before our very eyes.
No matter what the Lakers are trying to accomplish, whether it's to honor their past icons or nourish their future stars, there is no situation where it is acceptable for a team to be as disgraceful on the basketball court as the 2015-2016 squad. The fact that this isn't the main discourse, even as we're saying goodbye to one of the greatest players of all time, is absolutely confounding to me.
This is the greatest basketball franchise in the history of the NBA and this is by far their worst team ever. Where is the fury? Where is the anger? Why the complacency? Where is the outrage?
Kobe won't be a professional basketball player in a month. But this will still be the worst Lakers team of all time. That won't ever change.
What are you going to remember about this year?
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino