Last season, the Lakers, Knicks and Pistons all missed the playoffs. In fact, those franchises all lost at least 50 games, while the Celtics made the playoffs with a losing record (40-42).
“It’s changed,” NBA Hall of Famer and Lakers TV analyst James Worthy said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “The dominant teams – the Celtics, the Lakers, the Pistons – there’s a lot more parity right now.”
Parity is fine. Parity is great. But we’re still used to seeing the Lakers compete for championships – and they really haven’t done that in the last couple of seasons.
Even more discouraging for Lakers fans, that might not change anytime soon.
“As far as the Lakers are concerned, this is Kobe’s last year on paper,” Worthy said. “I think the fact that we weren’t able to secure the top free agents – we went after (LaMarcus) Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan and last year we went after Carmelo – I think that’s going to work out fine for us because we’re going to build a foundation. And we’re in a (good) position now with the young players we have and the players that we’re adding.”
That includes Brandon Bass, Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams, who was the Sixth Man of the Year this past season.
“So we have something to work with,” Worthy said. “We’re back in the ball game. I can’t say that we’re in the mix of making the playoffs, but I think we will. It’s just a matter of waiting for free agency next year and adding more to that.”
The Lakers have never been bashful when it comes to free agency, signing Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in recent years.
“We’re always looking to attack to win,” Worthy said. “Unfortunately that didn’t work out. We had a ton of injuries the last three years.”
Including injuries to Kobe Bryant, who turns 37 in August and has played in just 41 games over the past two seasons. Bryant still averaged 20.4 shot attempts in 34.5 minutes per game last season, but does that need to change? Does Bryant need to soften his personality and be less combative and more nurturing for the good of the franchise – both now and in the future?
“Well, I think Kobe needs to understand that Grandfather Time is not going to move out of the way,” Worthy said. “I do think he has to take less minutes and let these younger players flourish. Some of the older veterans, when he came into the league, said, ‘Now it’s Kobe’s time.’ I think he does need to be more considerate of how he handles guys. He would have been perfect with us in the ’80s because that’s all we did. We stayed in each other’s face, and we were tough on each other. It didn’t matter. But I think in today’s game, he’s got to be more encouraging, which he has been. Players go work out with Kobe in the summer. Swaggy P, Wes Johnson – he takes them in.”
Right, but what about free agents? The Lakers haven’t signed any superstars in the past couple of seasons, and the word on the street is it’s because they don’t want to play with Bryant.
“Well, the word on the street (isn’t always accurate),” Worthy said. “San Antonio’s a great team. Who wouldn’t want to play for Pop right now? I think the thing is, the players want to win now and the Lakers are in a growing situation. Sure, Kobe’s a strong personality, (but) nobody was complaining when they won five championships with him. You come to play. If Kobe’s tough, you just get tougher. That’s just my thing. I think players want to win. I think they want to win now. They don’t want to wait three, four, five years. I think that’s been our biggest obstacle.”
Worthy also weighed in on the recent back-and-forth between Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen. While just about every NBA franchise could put together a formidable all-time starting five, Worthy doesn’t think any could touch the Lakers.
Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney agree.
“You wouldn’t even have to go to the all-time starting Laker greats,” Worthy said. “You have a lot of bench players that could get it done. You’ve got Hall of Famers on the bench. Bob McAdoo, myself – you have guys like that. Shaquille could be coming off the bench. I heard the argument and I respect Chicago, but I don’t think it would be an issue.”