Even with Kobe Bryant, the playoffs were a long shot for the Lakers this season — their defense was slipping, and their offense was not going to carry them far enough in a deep Western Conference.
Kobe Bryant’s injury — out six weeks now with a fracture of tibial plateau in in his left knee — only exacerbates the problem. The Lakers have a rough stretch of the schedule coming up including some tough road games and in a West where the pace is 47-48 wins just to get the eight seed the Lakers are going to fall short.
Even with the injury, the Lakers long-term plans don’t really change.
This Bryant injury may be a reality check for some around the Lakers (and some of their rabid fans). They thought Kobe was going to come back from his Achilles surgery, return to near his All-NBA form fairly quickly and with just a few moves (a major signing or trade) they would be back as a contenders.
It was never that simple or easy and this injury should help bring that reality into focus. Kobe is not going to be the same, building a team around him will be difficult.
However, the injury doesn’t really change the Lakers plans.
First, the Lakers do not tank. They are not going to sell off a lot of assets and try to go the full Wiggins here — they don’t need to as they can draw major free agents (unlike smaller markets). Plus they never really could tank. Kobe will be back around Feb. 1 and you try to tell him how the Lakers should try to be bad to get some untested rookie.
The injury also doesn’t change how the Lakers feel about Kobe’s two-year, $48.5 million contract extension — that was about rewarding a loyal Laker who still fills the expensive seats and brings in the sponsors. Kobe has made the Buss family a lot of money, they gave him another cut. There was and is no regret there, and from a business perspective it was the right move.
With the injury the Lakers are going to look to make trades — don’t be shocked if guys like Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman get moved, those guys have value around the league (all bigs do). The Lakers will listen to any calls, but they are not going to take on salary that messes up future cap space.
Likely Pau Gasol spends this entire season with the Lakers then they let him walk (don’t expect him back with this team next). They will look for trades but with his $19.3 million salary and the Lakers not wanting to take on salary in future years (and teams being stingy giving away picks) there just are not going to be options.
Then this summer — and really more intently in the summer of 2015 — the Lakers will hit the free agent market hard, looking for the star player that they can both pair with Kobe and who can take over the mantle of Lakers leader when he is gone. Around that guy they bring in the right role players (and possibly a new coach) to make it all fit. It’s about acquiring the big talent first.
And that was always the plan. Injury or not.