Known for his intense competitive nature, Kobe Bryant isn’t keen on bettering the Los Angeles Lakers draft position by sitting out the rest of the season.
Presently recovering from a knee injury that’s kept him out since December, Bryant is still pushing to return to the court even if it could potentially hurt the team’s future. With 24 games left in the regular season the Lakers own the fourth-worst record in the league and are lottery bound. More losses mean a better chance of moving up the draft board.
“Well, I just stick to the script,” Bryant said during All-Star Weekend. “Just try to get better and then go from there. I just try to focus, keep my blinders on, and just do what I have to do and not worry too much about what’s going on around you — but just stay focused on what my responsibilities are. I am [hopeful]. I just need to keep my blinders on and just focus on getting better myself and going from there.”
The Lakers are 14.5 games back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, making the postseason a near impossibility. But should Bryant return he could spur several wins that would stymie the Lakers chances of landing a top-five pick in a loaded 2014 draft that includes prospects like Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
Bryant mentioning blinders could mean he’s strictly focused on getting better while denying the fact that L.A. has dropped out of the NBA’s elite. But he also professed faith in the Lakers management and the team’s future.
“What we have coming up this offseason with the cap space and what we have ahead of ourselves seems to be right in the Lakers’ wheelhouse in terms of turning things around pretty quickly,” Bryant said. “We have had summers like this, they have never really faltered. They have normally made really sound and excellent decisions that put us right back in contention. So, I think this offseason is right in their wheelhouse.
“In all honesty, I don’t want [the responsibility of helping with roster decisions]. That’s what they do. I’m not a general manager. I don’t know about scouting players and doing things of that nature. So, I’ll let them do their job. They have obviously done a phenomenal job at it for years, so I’m not going to jump in the way.
“All I ask is if something is going to go down, just let me know about it beforehand so I don’t hear about it on a ticker or something. But that’s about it.”
The Lakers will have more than $27 million in cap space this summer, just the right amount to pair another star with Bryant, and could potentially have four first-round picks if Dallas, Houston, and Oklahoma City continue winning.
If Bryant decides to return this year rather than rest up for the next, he’ll help the Lakers face a final gauntlet loaded with playoff teams. Of the Lakers 14 games in March, eight are against playoff teams including consecutive home-and-homes with Oklahoma City and San Antonio, the two best teams in the West.
In Bryant’s absence and after the recent trade that sent Steve Blake to Golden State, Jodie Meeks and Kent Bazemore have filled in more than amicably in the Lakers backcourt. Starting 46 games this season, Meeks is fourth on the team with 14.6 points per game and is shooting 39.4 percent from three.
L.A. acquired Bazemore for Blake a week ago just before the trade deadline, and thus far the 24-year-old has emerged as go-to scorer. In the four games after the trade, Bazemore’s averaged 17.3 points and two steals.