Kobe Bryant is enjoying life after basketball. Since retiring from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016, Bryant has won an Oscar and a Sports Emmy, started a children’s podcast and written a book.
It’s safe to say basketball is the last thing on his mind, which is why he told Frank Isola of The Athletic that the notion of him coming out retirement to play with LeBron James is laughable.
Would you come back and play with LeBron?
No. (Laughs). That’s an easy one … because I don’t want to play no more. I’m done.
However, that doesn’t mean Bryant hasn’t been watching James and his former team from a distance. Bryant acknowledged the Lakers have struggled, but he said he believes they can turn things around in the summer, so long as they decide exactly what it is they want to do:
I feel like they’re in a position where they have two pathways that they can take. Both will work out just fine. But they’re both just different decisions, right? And what do you do with some of the young pieces that you have? Do you trade them, or do you keep them and allow them to develop? Either way will be fine. One will be a little faster than others in terms of fast-tracking and players you bring in to play with LeBron. Other may be a little slower in developing. May be. But they’re in a really good position. This season has been tough, but you know listen, they were playing well and then they got hit with a bunch of injuries in rapid succession and things happen sometimes. But they’ll be back next year.
In theory, the Lakers have two directions they can go, but one could argue that they made their decision two years ago, when they traded D’Angelo Russell for cap space in 2017.
By trading Russell, the Lakers made it clear that their plan was to go all-in on signing big name free agents. They got one last summer in James, but they’re still searching for their second after getting snubbed by Paul George in free agency.
If the Lakers can’t find their second star in free agency this summer, the Russell trade will go from being a blemish on the front office’s resume, to being a giant smudge. The same can be said of their decision to let former No. 7 overall pick Julius Randle walk in free agency.
Would it be the worst thing in the world to build around James and the young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and their future lottery pick? Perhaps not, but they could have done that without trading Russell just two years into his career or letting Randle go.
The Lakers made their bed and now they have to lay in it, for better or worse. For their sake and the team’s, let’s hope their plans come to fruition this summer.