By Alexander C. Lawrence
As painful as this might sound to Laker fans like myself, the Los Angeles Lakers do NOT have the next Kobe “Bean” Bryant on the roster. Kobe brought so much to the game of basketball that we may not see the next Kobe for years, if ever again. Kobe believed whole-heartedly that each practice should be as hard as a game, if not harder. If Kobe didn’t like something his teammates were doing he was never shy letting them know it. He was arguably the most important player in basketball from 1999 to 2009 and was the bridge that filled the void left by Michael Jordan.
With all these accolades that Kobe accomplished, its tough for anyone to come into the league and fill his shoes, much less a pass-first point guard with a braggadocios father. But that still doesn’t mean Lonzo Ball can’t be the rightful heir to Kobe Bryant. Fans were so excited to see what Ball could bring to the table since a lot of people viewed him as a can’t miss prospect with loads of potential. Kobe was special too when drafted, but he had a reliable and proven star center in Shaq who he shared the court with, something Ball must do without.
Emulating Kobe will be near impossible, but Lonzo doesn’t need to do that. I think right now the primary focus for him should be to work hard each day on getting better. Yeah it’s no surprise that the majority of Laker Nation and the organization are banking on him being the next great Laker, this has been a star-starved team in a star hungry market. I’m confident he can be that and of course being drafted so high to a franchise that has been known to be a competitive basketball team throughout its franchises storied history comes with high expectations. He is not alone with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle, Josh Hart etc. who are all young players looking to thrive and help bring an NBA championship back to LA.
There is a clear target on Ball’s back, but his father LaVar Ball has always put his sons in the spotlight claiming they have the ability to be great, so this nothing new to him. The truth is it’s never going to stop until he reaches greatness. He has to hone his game and take it one game (or practice at a time). He isn’t the get in your face type of guy as Kobe was, that’s just not him. That’s okay though because he has passing and rebounding abilities that are out of this world and easily surpass Kobe’s at his peak. He has smooth passing skills and he’s always looking ahead to see how he can set his teammates up to score, before himself. Those players don’t come around often but his potential based on what we saw from him at UCLA is too intriguing not to assume he can adjust and be the guy the Lakers have so desperately needed since Kobe’s departure.
For all NBA prospects that are drafted, no matter how much of a “can’t-miss” prospect they are, there is always a wait and see approach because you don’t really know what a player has until a few years of developing them. L.A. has never had a prospect like Lonzo and the excitement that people have for him is unparalleled. Kobe walked into Shaq’s spotlight and didn’t need to be the savior from the get-go. If Lonzo plays his game, goes about his business and performs on the court, he will win over the media and fans of the NBA.