The Los Angeles Lakers have turned things around since their slow start to the season and, at 14-9, would be the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference playoffs if they started today. Simply making the playoffs would be a step in the right direction for the Lakers, as they've been out of the postseason for five years and counting.
Lakers legend Kobe Bryant knows that playoff trips alone are not in the team's future, though. With LeBron James at the controls for Los Angeles, Bryant said at the Lakers All-Access event at Staples Center last night that the team will be champions again soon.
When asked by Bill Macdonald -- the team's play-by-play announcer and emcee for the event -- if the Lakers will win another title, Bryant didn't hold back.
“Of course they will. Of course they will,” Bryant said, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. “They have determination to figure it out. They will figure it out. They have talented pieces …. So enjoy the journey because we’ll be champions before you know it. Then we’ll just be laughing at all the Warrior fans."
Bryant expressed confidence in not only James, but also in the team's young core of talent that includes Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and others. However, Bryant warned that LeBron cannot continue to bear a heavy load for the Lakers if that championship dream is to be realized in the coming years.
“Coming in here, this organization, this city, it’s not anything that is new to him,” Bryant said. “He’s always had the spotlight, right? He’s been able to deal with that gracefully. I think the difference here is that you have a collection of players with a lot of talent all young. And so the challenge is, can they figure out what their games are individually, sooner rather than later?
“Because at the beginning of the season, you saw a collection of individual talent trying to figure out what they can do and where they can do it on the floor. What about their games? But at the same time how to figure out how to make those games blend in as a group. You can’t have one before the other, see what I’m saying? So it’s a test of Bron’s patience, and also doing what he needs to do to keep the team’s head above water. So it’s a balancing act.”
The Lakers began the season 2-5 and were 23rd in Defensive Rating, 21st in Rebound Percentage and 25th in opponent points in the paint. Since then, they are third in Defensive Rating, 10th in rebound percentage and 15th in opponent points in the paint. The Lakers added veteran center Tyson Chandler on Nov. 6 after he was waived by the Phoenix Suns and his presence has helped stabilize the Lakers' interior defense.
But much of the credit for the Lakers' turnaround goes to James. He's averaging 27.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists for the Lakers and has played in every game. In addition, James' usage percentage has jumped from 28.9 in October to 32.1 in November and is at 27.7 so far in December.
Bryant remains confident the Lakers' youngsters will turn things around and help James carry the team's load.
“Unbelievable talents,” Bryant said. “The patience is on all of us. We have to be patient. But as players, you’re never patient with yourself. You’re patient with each other, but not with yourself. You want to be there now and you work to be there now with the understanding that it is going to take time. But you want to be there now. That’s the way that you accelerate growth. They have a lot of potential, man. They’ll figure it out.”
Bryant was the featured speaker at the All-Access event, which also saw Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, coach Luke Walton and GM Rob Pelinka all speak as well.
The Lakers host the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday (10:30 ET, ESPN) before playing on the road in eight of their next 11 games. That stretch culminates with a Christmas Day showdown against Golden State in Oakland (8 ET, ESPN/ABC).