I have to admit it, with the Mikey regime in the rear view mirror, a returning superstar, and a group of fresh faces surrounding a pair of lotto picks this looked like it would be a relatively good year for the Lakers. It was obvious from the start this would to be a transition between the Kobe years and a new era. I just had no idea it was going to be this ugly. There have been signposts all along to disrupt my reverie: the loss to a once-winless Philadelphia squad, Byron’s continual lineup shuffling, and Kobe’s never-ending shoulder troubles. The 2015-2016 season that looked like the beginnings of a turn-around on opening night has been rebranded as a crash. Why? The Lakers prospects — including percentage odds — of retaining their pick in the first round of 2016’s draft have been a regular feature in the news for the past eight weeks. The possibility a left-over from the Steve Nash deal would let Philly grab the Lakers’ first round pick if those ping-pong balls bounce the wrong way is making me laugh; the only short-term value this season carries would be lost. I suppose this is what it was like to have been a fan in Boston watching the losses pile up with memories of championship glory still lingering. It’s tough to watch Kobe fire another three and avoid recollections of Michael’s return with Washington, all too aware of what he was in Chicago.
Frustrations aside, I would not want to have Byron’s job. He’s got to juggle Kobe’s farewell tour, bring the new guys along, blend them in with the team’s veterans, all the while dealing with the expectations of restless fans and an inconsolable front office. Add to that one loose-lipped GM named Mitch who told a gathering of season ticket holders that “we cannot move on as a team until Kobe leaves.” Nobody would dispute what Mitch said; it’s been obvious since Kobe put an end to speculation over his future with “Dear Basketball.” There is one difference: a voice on the radio or an L.A. Times reporter is not the voice of the front office. In Jim’s absence, Mitch is. His standing should prompt a little more discretion with reporters. I can’t help but wonder if he downed a glass or two of wine before that meeting. Que sera. The season is in its last month, a ticket to the playoffs an impossible dream, and a three game winning streak cause for celebration; fans are left to take a last look at the a future Hall of Famer — Kobe’s showdown with Lebron was outstanding — and look towards a future built around D’Angelo, Jordan, and Julius. The combination of potential and the money on the table should give the Lakers the best chance they’ve had in years to land that high-profile free agent the front office has been coveting. Hopefully they’ve got the sense to put basketball before branding, look beyond Kevin Durant, and leave the celebrities at home. By the way, better luck next year.