The 2016-2017 NBA season will be the first one in 20 years without Kobe Bryant in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform, which means the pressure to resurrect a once-great franchise, which now can't even get a meeting with top free agents like Kevin Durant, falls squarely on the shoulders of its latest draft pick, Brandon Ingram.
But that pressure pales in comparison against having to replace arguably the greatest player in franchise history; and the Lakers, whether they meant to or not, have given Ingram no choice but to accept it and bear it. As Ingram strolled into the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo for the first time on Tuesday, he instantly realized that his name plate had been placed on Bryant's old locker.
"I saw where my locker was, and I definitely knew it was Kobe's locker," Ingram told ESPN. "I know [general manager] Mitch [Kupchak] told me I had some big shoes to fill when I came in here, but I liked it. I like the pressure that's on me right now. It's going to motivate me to do good things on the court. It's all good pressure for me."
Ingram will get his first chance to hoop in a Lakers uniform when he takes the court on Friday as a member of the Lakers' NBA Summer League squad. The totally unjustified pressure of replacing Bryant will be heaped on him immediately. For now, Ingram is choosing to embrace both Bryant's shadow and his locker, which feels better than trying to avoid it.
"I can only do what I do well," Ingram said. "There is no other Kobe Bryant. So I know coming into this that I just have to be coachable. If I do whatever the coach [wants] and I make him happy, then I'm happy."
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