Commentary

Reality is, no easy fixes in L.A.

Unlikely LeBron or other elite free agents will choose Lakers in the short term

Updated: December 26, 2013, 2:47 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- There were a few chants ringing through Staples Center during the Miami Heat's 101-95 Christmas Day victory over the Lakers. A few creative types brought some posters along, hoping to get air time during the nationally televised game.

None of them were for LeBron James.

There was no wooing or pleading or begging him to sign with the Lakers this summer when he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. No neon green "Come Home, LeBron" T-shirts like the locals in Cleveland passed out when James and the Heat passed through town earlier this season.

The only thing that came close was Sean Jackson, the son of L.A. Gear CEO and Lakers superfan Steve Jackson, sitting courtside in a Lakers jersey with "James" on the back.

But for the most part, the Lakers and their fans seem to have moved on from the idea that they will be among the teams in the running for James this summer.

Some of that, of course, is the tight ship James and the Heat have run regarding questions about his future in Miami. He said during the preseason that he won't be discussing it during the season and he's stuck to that.

Most of it, though, is the growing realization and acceptance among Los Angelenos that this type of roster may be what the Lakers have for the next couple of seasons.

It doesn't mean they like it. It doesn't mean they'll continue to accept it. But for a franchise whose fans are used to pulling rabbits out of hats and landing superstars in the prime of their careers every decade, this type of rational thought is rare.

Perhaps it's all the bad luck the franchise has gone through in the past couple of seasons. The endless cycle of devastating injury news, the punch to the gut delivered by Dwight Howard on his way out of town this summer, or just a more savvy understanding of how the league's new collective bargaining agreement is affecting the franchise's ability to maneuver as it once did.

Whatever the reasons, Laker fans seem to have gotten the message that this is how it's going to be for a while. James almost certainly isn't coming to the Lakers this summer. The team simply doesn't have enough of what he's looking for -- which is simply a roster stocked with lots of talent that will help him win multiple championships.

Even without the two-year, $48.5 million extension the Lakers gave to Kobe Bryant last month, it was going to be difficult for the Lakers to woo James or the other top potential free agent, Carmelo Anthony.

The Lakers management grew wise to that earlier this season when they gave Bryant that contract extension. Better to lock him up now, burnish the franchise's reputation for treating its icons well through their golden years and have a legendary player to build around for the future than be left with an endless rebuilding project. It seems that its fan base is coming to that same realization now too. And if this is how it's going to be, they either have to adjust and embrace it, or as Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni wishes he wouldn't have put it the other day, "Find a new team to root for."

Bryant drove the point home before the game when he was asked what the current team needed to key on while he was out.

"Just focus on the game," Bryant said. "One of the things that I've learned is that you can't get caught up in the emotion of what's going on around you.

"You just focus on the X's and O's. It's a basketball game; whoever executes the best is going to win. You have to be able to cancel out all the noise and distractions."

Distractions like which free agent you might get in a year or two or three. Noise like talk of sitting out or tanking the rest of the season to improve your lottery position.

"My philosophy on that kind of stuff is, Do your job," Bryant said. "You owe it to the organization and your teammates to get ready as fast and as quickly as you possibly can and to come back as strong as you possibly can."

In other words: This is reality -- deal with it.

Bryant obviously thought about it some before he signed his contract extension. He decided to trust that the Lakers would lure enough talent with their remaining salary-cap space to give him a puncher's chance to win in his final few seasons. And he decided to trust in his own ability to adapt and adjust so he can still play at an elite level.

"I felt like I had some really good questions answered in terms of what I can do on the basketball floor," Bryant said of the six games he played before suffering a hairline fracture in his tibia last week.

"It was kind of like you're experimenting from game to game, trying to measure things and figure things out. I felt pretty good about that, which was the biggest question."

It's that approach Bryant's peers seem to admire so much. James even made a point of going over and hugging Bryant during Wednesday's game, then defending him in his postgame comments.

"I've been hearing about people giving their stupid opinion about what he should do," James said. "He's not going to sit. That's not him. That's not in his nature. He's an alpha male. He's going to get healthy, and he's going to play the game that he loves and has been playing forever.

"When he gets back, he's going to play at a high level. With him, I expect nothing less than greatness. Obviously we all get older each and every year, but the caliber of player he is, he can go out and put up 20 every night if he wanted to."

Asked if he would be watching how Bryant aged and adapted to physical challenges, the way Bryant has admitted to doing with Michael Jordan, James nodded and said:

"We're different players. Kobe and Mike got some of the same similarities. The way they shoot the ball, the way they handle the ball, the way they post up and things of that nature. They have a lot of similarities. I'm more of a power player.

"But you can take things from greatness and those are two of the greatest ever, so we'll see."

We'll see, huh? Two years ago that comment might have sent the locals into a tizzy. Heck, two months ago it might have felt like something substantial. Can you imagine what it would do to Knicks fans?

But in a nod to the new reality-based Lakers programming, no one will read anything more into the end of that statement.

Now, when one of the 2015 or 2016 free agents comes to town ... 

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