This Lakers’ season represents the battle between two distinct lines of thought. The first is that the Lakers are a team, whether they admit it or not, in need of a rebuild. Rebuilding teams need young assets. Young assets are acquired through the draft. The Lakers owe a draft pick to the Suns and will give that pick this season if it falls outside the top 5 in the upcoming draft. This leads to a strong contingent of Lakers fans — even Magic Johnson — to say that the Lakers should lose as many games as they can in order to try and keep that pick to draft another young player who can be an asset towards the rebuild.
The second is that the Lakers have never really rebuilt before, typically foregoing building through the draft in favor of winning as many games as possible and either flipping assets for better players or signing key players in free agency who help propel the roster. The way you make assets desirable in trades or make the team seem ready for impact free agents to jump on and help the roster is to be a team that is not awful. The Lakers, then, might prefer to be as good as they can, winning as many games as they can, to promote an image to other teams and free agents that they are close to winning.
Neither of these lines of thought is wrong. And both are wrought with assumptions and difficulties that will be highly influenced by individuals making choices, some luck, and the growth and development of players striving to reach their potential. If rebuilding were easy, there would be much more parity in this league and there wouldn’t be teams that historically produce poor results year after year.
I bring all this up because the Lakers, after winning two consecutive games and with another winnable game on the docket tonight against the T’Wolves are slowly moving away from a record that would keep them in the top 5 picks in the draft and, thus, making the first path described above harder to venture down. All the while this team is still very unlikely to be able to travel down path number two very easily without a bigger influx of talent that is ready to win now. All of this will make for a very interesting run up to the trade deadline, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Back to today, then, the Lakers face a Wolves team who they already lost to earlier this year at Staples Center. And while there will be some focus on revenge and trying to get a third consecutive win for the first time this year, the fact is that the biggest story heading into tonight has nothing to do with any of those things. No, tonight is about Kobe Byrant and his bid to pass Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. With 9 points, Kobe will pass MJ for 3rd in career points. As I’ve said earlier this will be a major accomplishment and something that is worth tuning in for even if you’re not a Kobe or a Lakers’ fan. This is rarified air (no pun intended) and Kobe will further cement his name in the history books with this accomplishment.
In any event, tonight will likely provide a few different moments to ponder. Kobe’s pursuit of individual records are a reminder that even though this is a team game, the all-time greats are what this sport is built on. From Mikan to Wilt to the Big O to the Doctor to Magic and Bird to Jordan to Shaq and Duncan and Kobe and LeBron this game has always been about the titans of the sport. On the other hand, the Lakers, as a team are in the middle of a transition and, in a way, are riding out these final moments of Kobe’s career until the next great one will anchor their franchise. The path they take to get their will inspire much debate, but as long as they get there none of us will really care.
Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.