The last few years have not been kind to the Los Angeles Lakers. Between the failed Mike D’Antoni experiment, Dwight Howard’s sole rocky season, Kobe Bryant’s aging and Byron Scott’s brief forgettable tenure, this team’s longtime championship culture has become nothing but a memory of the past.
Los Angeles is coming off a third consecutive season in which it had a lottery pick after eight straight years of making the playoffs, a run that included two championships. That’s a far cry from what fans of the Bryant years and before grew used to seeing from this team and after the Lakers won just 17 games last season, there were a lot of questions entering the 2016-17 campaign.
And what a turnaround the team has experienced thus far. Los Angeles enters tonight’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves with a 6-4 record after going 2-8 over their first 10 games last season. The Lakers have a new coach, a younger team and a new attitude. It’s hard to believe that this is the same team that paid $4.2 million per win last year despite being barely over the cap at around $72 million.
It’s still early, but this team appears to have hit bottom and is now ready to rise from the ashes at breakneck speed after adding some key pieces in free agency and the draft.
Greatest Addition: Luke Walton
And Walton is just the coach the Lakers need at this point in their rebuild. Not only is he just 36 years old and the fresh face this young team needs manning the sidelines, but he also spent the previous two seasons as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors and was on the staff that won a championship in 2015. Walton also served as interim coach for half of last season as Steve Kerr recovered from back surgery, ultimately leading Golden State to a 39-4 start in what was a record-breaking season.
But that isn’t the most significant reason why Walton is a great fit as the Lakers’ coach. He spent eight-plus seasons playing for Los Angeles and won two championships playing under Phil Jackson. He knows the city, the team and its culture well. He’s far from being on Jackson’s level, but Walton is still the perfect man to be in the driver’s seat during the Lakers’ rebirth.
Greatest Loss: Kobe Bryant
There will always be people critical of Kobe Bryant, especially regarding his last few seasons. The future Hall of Famer dealt with injuries over that stretch, saw his shooting percentages fall and had a general reputation as being selfish.
Polarizing nature aside, Bryant is still a tremendous loss for the Lakers. His 20 NBA seasons were defined by the following: 18 All-Star selections, two scoring titles, an MVP trophy, nine All-Defensive First Team berths and five NBA championships. He averaged 25 points per game for his career and scored 60 points in his final game last season.
Bryant’s on-court skills are just a small part of how much the Lakers will miss him. The man’s greatness earned him great endorsements from a litany of companies including Nike, Adidas, Russell Athletic and many others. Bryant also graced the cover of many video games, most recently the Legend Edition of NBA 2K17. Forbes reported him as having $25 million in endorsements last season and he walked away from the game having earned $680 million.
Simply put, players of Bryant’s caliber are few and far between. Love him or hate him, the NBA just isn’t going to be the same without the Black Mamba.