The sunny skies and frequent laughs served as the permanent backdrop when athletes and celebrities strolled down the red carpet before the ESPY awards at the Microsoft Theater on Wednesday. But TNT analyst Kenny Smith turned serious amid a cloudy forecast regarding the Lakers’ fortunes next season.
Among the many questions surrounding the Lakers: how will Kobe Bryant play in his 20th and perhaps final NBA season?
“I just hope he’s healthy, healthy as a 36 year old can be,” Smith said. “I’m hoping for that. I’m not hoping for Kobe of 22. That’s not going to happen.”
Last season, Bryant averaged 22.3 points on a career-low 37.3 percent clip in 36.4 minutes through 35 games before suffering a season-ending injury to his right shoulder. That marked the third consecutive time Bryant’s season abruptly ended because of various ailments. Because of this reality, the Lakers hope an improved supporting cast and conservative practice and playing regiment will ensure Bryant can play through next season without experiencing another injury.
The Lakers did not upgrade their roster as they had hoped, missing out on intended top targets such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe and DeAndre Jordan. The Lakers settled on acquiring center Roy Hibbert from Indiana, signing free-agent forward Brandon Bass and signing Lou Williams, the NBA’s defending sixth man of the year.
The Lakers may have either failed to retain or sign top free agents in three consecutive years, including Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. But Smith downplayed this latest trend, arguing, “you can’t flourish every year in free agency.” Smith also liked the Lakers’ young core in D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Yet, Smith focused on one variable that would have defined the Lakers’ success or failure next season regardless of the team’s batting average in the free agency sweepstakes.
“It all depends on Kobe’s injuries and how well healthy is he,” Smith said. “That’s going to dictate what happens next door here at Staples Center.”
Smith sounded more at ease discussing other topics.
He and his wife, Gwendolyn Osbourne-Smith, have filmed and aired the first season of their reality show titled, “Meet the Smiths” on TBS.
“I don’t think you can ever prepare for having cameras in your face that much,” Smith said. “But the one thing is not to do anything that you typically wouldn’t do.”
Smith found that role drastically different than his appearances on TNT’s “Inside the NBA.” Yet, that show also has involved the unpredictable, such as Shaquille O’Neal fell on set after his shoe was somehow tied to the desk’s television equipment.
“When you wear size 26 shoe and you wrap your feet around wires and all the teleprompters underneath pull out, you can’t script that any better,” Smith said, laughing. “I thought he was faking until I heard the thud. So when you hear the thud, he’s not faking at all. I was worried about him for 10 seconds. Then, he was like, I think we’re going to get a million hits on Youtube.”
The Lakers have proven as popular, regardless of their latest struggles that entailed missing the playoffs and finishing with the season’s word record in L.A. franchise history for two consecutive seasons. One of the reason’s involves Bryant’s presence, though Smith sounded unsure whether that will feature a happy ending.
“We’ll see when it comes,” Smith said. “When he walks on the floor the first couple of games in exhibition play, you’ll get an idea of where he is.”