While Kobe Bryant won five championships during this 20-year-career with the Los Angeles Lakers, he knows what it’s like to fall short even after experiencing massive success.
After tearing his Achilles in 2013, Bryant went through multiple losing seasons with the Lakers in his last few years in the NBA.
When Bryant hung up his jersey in 2016, the Lakers turned their attention to attracting a new superstar to help them end the longest playoff drought in their history.
That person would end up being LeBron James, who announced he was signing with the franchise in July after losing the NBA Finals to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With Magic Johnson serving as president, and James — widely considered the best player in the league — on board, the Lakers seemed certain to make a playoff run this season, and some even believed they had a chance to make it to the Western Conference Finals. Instead, the Lakers have just earned 31 wins so far with 11 only games left to play (the top-seeded Warriors have 48 wins as of Thursday), and the team could very well finish the year with fewer wins than the season before James joined the team.
While speaking with ESPN, Bryant expressed sympathy for his former team and attributed their struggles to the multiple injuries James and other key players faced throughout the year.
“It was unfortunate because it got hit with so many injuries in rapid succession,” Bryant said. “When they were rolling, I mean, they were playing very well, I think exceeding people’s expectations. But then they got hit with all these injuries. Kind of set ’em back, knocked them off-kilter a little bit.”
He continued: “It’s hard to reboot that and so now they get caught in that rut. But next year should be better.”
Bryant — whose former agent, Rob Pelinka, serves as the general manager of the Lakers — said the team you be “patient” heading into an important offseason where signing another superstar to play alongside James will be essential.
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“It’s just a matter of being patient. Obviously, they’ll make smart decisions,” he told ESPN. “You have opportunities, things, pieces that you can trade, assets of that sort, or you can stay with the young guys who are extremely talented and have great upside and let them develop. Either direction you go should be a good direction.”
As for James, a three-time NBA champion who will see his eight-year streak of making it to the Finals come to an end this year, Bryant said the best way to rebound from this difficult season is, simply, to win.
“You just got to keep pushing,” Bryant said. “Seasons like this are what make the championships worth it.”