Switching from Byron Scott to Luke Walton at head coach made a crucial difference, of course, but Kobe Bryant's retirement can't be overlooked. While the Lakers did the right thing in celebrating their legendary future Hall of Famer last season, his presence detracted from player development for the rest of the roster. And it sounds like at least one young Laker, third-year guard Jordan Clarkson, understands just how important Kobe's absence is this season.
When I sat down with Clarkson for a brief interview outside the Jurassic Cafe, I asked if he misses Bryant’s presence in practice or games. The 24-year-old laughed in the middle of his answer.
“We’ve kind of moved on. It’s almost like breaking up with your girlfriend,” he said. “It’s kind of weird without them around and stuff. But it’s just us. We’re in our own space now. We’re creating something new.”
Clarkson might compare Kobe's retirement to a breakup, but he doesn't sound particularly heartbroken about the Black Mamba's absence.
There was a clear divide between the old school and the new in Los Angeles last year. Remember, Clarkson is the same player who had to stop D'Angelo Russell from criticizing coach Scott during the All-Star break. Now that Kobe's out of the picture, though, the Lakers can focus on being their best selves. It's all very Zen, if you can believe that.
“It definitely brought us closer. Definitely — 100 percent — like it definitely made us closer,” Clarkson said. “Some people had to talk to people, you know, figure out their problems. We did that, everything’s behind us now, and we know what to do.”
Maybe Clarkson's right. Despite all speculation to the contrary this offseason, Young is still a member of the Lakers — and a key contributor at that. He has started all eight games this season, averaging 14.5 points per game.
The Lakers aren't going to make the playoffs this season, but one thing's for sure: Los Angeles really doesn't miss Kobe Bryant — and he doesn't miss the Lakers. Who would have guessed?