You can never count on the Los Angeles Lakers being bad for too long. The franchise's history speaks for itself. But it's an inescapable fact that these are dark days for the world's most famous basketball team.
Two seasons in the tank is bad enough. But now, the Lakers have struck out on their top free agent targets three years in a row. In 2013, Dwight Howard decamped for Houston after a bizarre season in L.A. and an even weirder courtship. In 2014, Carmelo Anthony chose the awful Knicks over the awful Lakers and LeBron didn't even bother considering L.A.
And now, the Lakers appear to have lost all three of their top free agent targets on Day 1 of the 2015 free agency festival. Kevin Love decided to stay in Cleveland, Jimmy Butler is staying in Chicago and LaMarcus Aldridge has reportedly ruled out L.A. after a late-night meeting.
The details of why Aldridge is looking elsewhere are a fascinating perspective into what ails the Lakers. From Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:
Aldridge, who turns 30 in two weeks, also failed to connect with Kobe Bryant, who spoke for about three minutes at the presentation. Bryant said he envisioned Aldridge working with him the same way Pau Gasol did, a message that apparently fell flat, though Lakers officials were quick to defend Bryant.
"It wasn't his fault at all," said a team official who requested anonymity.
To pin this new 2015 failure completely on Kobe is really unfair. Love stayed in Cleveland because of LeBron and Kyrie and $110 million and a shot to make the next six or seven or eight NBA Finals series. Butler is staying in Chicago because restricted free agency is cruel. Aldridge is moving on because the Lakers stink. Again, Bresnahan:
Aldridge considered the Lakers to be part of a "two-horse race" with the San Antonio Spurs and "wanted to be wowed" but was actually turned off by the lack of analytics on the basketball side of their presentation, according to the person.
The Lakers apparently focused on selling L.A. as a city of opportunity, but Aldridge wanted to become comfortable with the Lakers' basketball plan. (Imagine that.)
The Lakers also contended that their analytics outline would have been stronger if they had a better roster last season. The team privately expressed envy that Houston's presentation could be boasted by stats and on-court analysis of a team with James Harden and, indeed, Dwight Howard.
Reflect on that for a second. The Lakers were envious that the Rockets could make a legitimate basketball case to Aldridge because the Rockets, you know, have great players. The Lakers do not. This turns out to be a pretty big deal!
It's also at least in part due to Kobe, or more accurately the crazy contract extension the Lakers gave to Kobe. He's on the books for $25 million this season. L.A. was essentially unable to offer Aldridge a second free agent star because of Kobe's contract. The Lakers would have no problem promising a co-star in 2016 when the cap rises and Kobe's deal falls off the books. But why would Aldridge waste a year of his prime mentoring up rookies and popping shots out of Bryant's shadow when there are options to contend for a title elsewhere?
Here's where it gets real dicey for the Lakers. The front office seems to expect Kobe to retire at the end of the 2015-16 season. When Kobe has been on the court in the past few seasons, he's looked pretty good. What if he has a healthy season? What if the allure of the higher salary cap convinces him to ask the Buss family for one last deal? What if this wasn't the last free agent meeting at which Kobe tried to convince an obviously better player to be the Robin to his Batman? The Lakers could just decline to bring Kobe back, but that doesn't very much seem the Lakers' Way. (See: Kobe's current contract.)
This is also where we note that the Lakers' 2016 first-round pick will transfer to the Sixers unless it lands in the top three. This was a really bad July 1 to botch given that there's even less upside than normal in being awful next year. Unless L.A. can pull a DeMarcus Cousins out of a hat or something, this could get even worse before it gets better.
So much for Lakers exceptionalism.
SB Nation presents: The time Kobe asked a 10-year-old girl for advice