Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Kobe Bryant's debut with the Lakers. But Kobe won't be playing for them; if you've been living under a rock, he retired. So who will replace Kobe?
Who Will Replace Kobe for the Lakers?
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Kobe Bryant's debut with the Los Angeles Lakers. But Kobe won't be playing for them; he retired in style after scoring 60 points (on 50 shots) to help beat the Utah Jazz in the final game of the 2015-16 regular season. Sadly, the Lakers weren't able to extend Bryant's career into the playoffs after finishing last in the Western Conference at 17-65.
So who will replace Kobe? The Lakers will have a wide range of NBA picks with the league's salary cap increasing from $67 million to roughly $89 million for the 2016-17 season – and again to around $108 million for 2017-18. Here are five of the most obvious free-agent candidates for the Purple and Gold to negotiate with.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Everything begins and ends with James (27.5 PER). He's an unrestricted free agent after signing a one-year contract with the Cavs last year, and while it's assumed King James will stay in Cleveland, he's talked on social media about forming a “Super Friends” team and making another run at a title. Los Angeles would give him (and his friends) the biggest spotlight to do so.
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Here's one of those Super Friends. James and Wade (20.3 PER) won two rings with the Heat, and they won Olympic gold (alongside Kobe) with Team USA. However, Wade doesn't have much tread left on his tires at age 34. He's lost a step or two on defense, and he'd presumably rather continue his career in Miami, the only NBA team he's ever played for.
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Assuming that James and Wade remain with their current clubs, Durant (28.2 PER) is the best Plan B on the board and NBA odds makers know it too. He might even be Plan A. Durant has been with the Thunder organization since breaking into the league with the Seattle Supersonics in 2007, but it hasn't always been smooth sailing. If the Lakers don't get him, the Boston Celtics might.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Ever since Love (19.0 PER) made his debut with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2008, we've waited for the day when Love is free to join the Lakers. He was born in Santa Monica, he went to school at UCLA, and he's no doubt looking for an opportunity to escape Cleveland after failing to mesh with James.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
This looked like a slam-dunk not too long ago. Like Love, DeRozan (21.5 PER) is a California native – from straight outta Compton – and a UCLA product. He has an Early Termination Option with Toronto that he'll almost certainly use, and the Raptors might not want to give DeRozan max money, considering his below-average defensive play. However, they've managed to sign players like Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross to team-friendly contracts, so the Raps might be able to retain DeRozan's services for a while longer.