The ball being the future of the franchise, which is basically entering a transitional, post-Kobe stage - and that's regardless of who wins tonight's pivotal game against Houston to determine whether the season gets extended. Chances are the Lakers will squeak into the playoffs and should that happen, it's even possible (although highly unlikely) that the team can advance to the second round. At some point, however, the front office will be adjusting to life without Kobe Bryant - or at least the Kobe Bryant we have come to expect all these years. And as I point out in this week's Business Update on KPCC, that has all sorts of business ramifications.
Mark Lacter: Even before Kobe's injury no one was expecting the team to get very far. That means a probable drop in ratings - not unlike what happens during golf telecasts when Tiger Woods isn't playing. As it stands, having San Antonio and Oklahoma City at the top of the NBA Western Division can't be great news for ESPN and TNT, which will televise the playoffs. San Antonio is the 37th largest media market and Oklahoma City is the 45th.
Tess Vigeland: But, what about the Clippers?
Lacter: Yeah, what about the Clippers? Clearly, the ratings are up sharply this season, and if the team advances deep into the playoffs, the numbers will probably jump further. Actually, this is a great opportunity for the Clippers to pick up more fans for next year. But, keep in mind that the Lakers, for all their troubles, remain a hugely successful franchise. Forbes values the team at $1 billion - second only to the New York Knicks and way higher than the Clippers. The value of sports franchises go beyond won-lost records. A big part of it is location (which explains why New York and L.A. are the top two teams), but another important part of it is branding.
Vigeland: So even though the Lakers are in a rough patch, they are the Lakers...
Lacter: ...right, which means TV ratings will be strong no matter what and attendance will be high no matter what. There's even an argument that with Kobe in the tail end of his career the Lakers should consider putting him on waivers. Doing that would save around $80 million, which could be used for a young player. Now, team officials have downplayed that possibility, but at some point there will be some a rebuilding effort - and that becomes a financial and marketing issue, as well.
From ESPN's J.A. Adande:
Bryant's injury provides safe cover for [coach Mike] D'Antoni, who has been under fire from Lakers fans all season. The Lakers want to do everything possible to avoid paying both him and Mike Brown to not coach the team next season. The ability to say D'Antoni didn't have Bryant for the most important games of the season gives them their excuse. Meanwhile, Bryant has a chance to have a triumphant final act of his career, even if he doesn't win another championship. If he can return from this injury at age 35 and play something close to a full season at an All-Star level it will only add to the myth-making. He already has more sympathy than at any point of the past dozen seasons of his polarizing career. I can't tell you how many online posts I read from self-professed Kobe haters who said they hated to see him go down like that. Everyone will be rooting for him to come back with a vengeance.