Is Kobe Bryant undermining the Los Angeles Lakers' rebuilding efforts? The Lakers' 36-year-old superstar may be the leading reason why they've been unable to land talented players over the last few years, according to a feature story by ESPN's Henry Abbott.
Potential free agents have been hesitant to join the Lakers because of Bryant "alienating" them, according to the story. Multiple anonymous league sources and agents came forward to point the finger at Bryant as the primary cause for the Lakers' current predicament, most notably their inability to retain Dwight Howard last summer. Another agent claimed he represented "multiple" clients over the last five years that wouldn't sign with Los Angeles because of Bryant.
"I've had a lot of clients in the last five years, good players, who didn't want to play with Kobe," says an agent who has had numerous NBA stars. "They see that his teammates become the chronic public whipping boys. Anyone who could possibly challenge Kobe for the spotlight en'ds up becoming a pincushion for the media. Even Shaq."
The Lakers missed out on big-name players like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in 2014 despite having space for a maximum-level contract. Anthony chose to return to New York with Phil Jackson leading a fresh direction, while James took his talents back to Cleveland with an opportunity to play with Kyrie Irving and eventually Kevin Love. Los Angeles met with Anthony and James' representatives, but came up empty-handed.
Kobe and the Lakers
Los Angeles made minor moves once the top-tier free agents moved on, re-signing Nick Young to a four-year contract and making a handful of other signings that aren't expected to improve the team significantly after winning just 27 games last season.
But much has happened outside of Bryant's control to cause LA's downfall. The Lakers' trade for Steve Nash has been a bust that will turn out even more damaging if the Lakers fall out of the top five in the draft and surrender their 2015 first-round pick to the Suns. David Stern's veto of the Chris Paul trade was unprecedented for the NBA and had ripple effects that diminished the value of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Injuries have severely hampered the Lakers' chance to build any consistency with their roster, now being coached by it's third head coach in as many seasons. The Lakers have struggled across the board, not solely with recruitment efforts.
Bryant is signed through the '15-16 season, inking a two-year extension worth $48 million last season. At that point, we'll find out if he really is the cause for the Lakers' recent lack of talent.