As Kobe Bryant noshes with Rajon Rondo, the Lakers plot to keep him around past 2016

As Kobe Bryant noshes with Rajon Rondo, the Lakers plot to keep him around past 2016

Kobe Bryant has been through quite a bit in his basketball career, but he’s never been through anything like this.

The Lakers are bad. Truly awful. The team has the worst defense in the league by far, worse than a Minnesota Timberwolves team that is primarily staffed with young men who can’t buy their own beer, and the squad is projected to win just 22 games this season. That’s worse than the 27-win monster of a 2013-14 season, and worse than the 2004-05 outfit that previously stood as the last Kobe Bryant-outfitted squad to miss the playoffs.

Kobe, due to injury, didn’t have to ride out either of those seasons, though. All indications point to a healthy Kobe Bryant working the duration of 2014-15, though, attempting to drag his Lakers past the 25-win mark. With most top free agents likely to stick in their current cities during the 2015 offseason, Kobe’s 2015-16 squad could be equally as terrible, with 37-year old Kobe Bryant dragging around even older legs.

Bryant’s contract ends after that campaign, and in the months since Kobe’s extension became public it was assumed that his current two-year, $48.5 million deal would be his final one.

If Lakers coach Byron Scott had his way, though, Kobe would come back for another round. That’s right, the Lakers are already pitching to Kobe Bryant about his decisions in the 2016 offseason. From Mark Medina at the Los Angeles Daily News:

“We’ll talk about that. You guys have watched him play. He has a lot left in that tank,” Scott said before the Lakers (4-13) play the Washington Wizards (11-5) at Verizon Center. “If we put something together that excites him, we’ll have a real good chance of him saying he’ll play another year and give it another shot. That’s what we plan to do.”

The plan took another shot to the bow on Wednesday when Kobe’s Lakers were downed by Washington, with Bryant looking rather awful down the stretch. Bryant is averaging 26 points and around 10 combined rebounds/assists per game, remarkable stats for someone at any age, but he’s shooting 39 percent to get to those 26 points, and his defense is shockingly poor at this point.

The hoped-for help in 2015, Kevin Love and Marc Gasol, ain’t goinnowhere. Earlier this year, ESPN published a report that basically blamed Kobe for the Lakers’ inability to either draw or retain superstar free agents, basically painting Bryant as a terrible teammate that nobody wants to play with. Hope wouldn’t seem to be on the way.

Until you see this:

That’s Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo dining out together, with Bryant in Boston in advance of the Lakers’ Friday night game against the Celtics. Kobe, of course, painted it as merely a meeting of two friends, but sometimes two friends don’t have to talk about something specifically to have an understanding regarding a certain subject.

Rondo is, notably, a free agent in 2015. Bryant and Rondo have long shown admiration for each other through the press, using phrases we can’t repeat here, and Bryant even recently ranked Rondo amongst a list of active players that he sees making the Hall of Fame someday. Rondo, already at age 28, is an odd in-prime cog on the rebuilding Celtics, who have told the press that they’re not interested in losing their one-time championship point guard via trade or free agency.

Still, coming off of a major knee surgery and working several years older than his burgeoning teammates, Rondo may not want to waste what could be his best years on a Celtics team that seems to be miles away from greatness.

Complicating that even further has been Rondo’s play this season. His contributions have actually declined in comparison to last year, when he was returning from that torn ACL. He leads the NBA in assist percentage, but he’s also turning the ball over on more than a quarter of the possessions he uses up – a mark usually reserved for the Reggie Evanses of the world. Celtic fans are pleading with him to just give off the appearance that sometimes he would like to drive and score, as the team’s once-impressive offense has faltered over the last two weeks. On top of all this, Rondo is hitting just 30 percent of his free throws.

Perhaps he needs a change in scenery. Perhaps he needs to be paired with the similarly dogged Bryant in the Laker backcourt to turn it all around.

Perhaps. Rondo dominates the ball. It’s fair to say Kobe Bryant does the same. How those two would work in a backcourt led by any coach, let alone Byron Scott, is truly up in the air. Laker fans still smarting from the canceled Chris Paul trade from 2011 should pause to consider just how Paul and Bryant would have co-existed: Kobe Bryant isn’t the sort of guy to play off the ball.

Is he the sort of guy to play at age 38? Bryant was asked about as much following the loss to the Wizards. From the Los Angeles Daily News:

“Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t want to be coy about it,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ 111-95 loss on Wednesday to the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center. “I don’t know what to tell you. Right now I’d say no. But it doesn’t matter. Would that change a year from now or something like that?”

That’s about as honest as it gets. Of course Kobe would love to get paid to play for his favorite team until that team refuses to sign him again, and that team’s coach is openly begging for him to come back some 19 months before his contract actually expires. Kobe Bryant will be thinking he could make a difference on a basketball team when he’s 45 years old, and we shouldn’t doubt for a second that Bryant would see no problem with jacking heaps of shot at a sub-40 percent success rate deep into his 30s.

He doesn’t know, though. So much could happen this year, this summer, next season and the summer following that. The Lakers are currently in the business of pleasing Kobe as opposed to winning basketball games, and that’s their choice. Should they fail to attract free agents, or succeed in securing Rondo and his dubious partnership with Bryant, the Laker brain trust is not going to suddenly start turning Kobe Bryant away at the door.

It’s Kobe’s team. He doesn’t know what he’s doing with it in 2016, mainly because he’s still trying to make 2014 work.

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Kelly Dwyer

is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!