Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA and he was the foundation of many great Los Angeles Laker teams throughout his 20 year career. There were highs (5 NBA Championships, including a three-peat with Shaquille O'Neal) and lows (the rebuilding years and his injury plagued seasons), but through it all, Kobe provided many lasting memories for Lakers fans. NBA fans will never forget about Black Mamba (Kobe's alter-ego), but it is easy for the casual NBA fan to forget about some of the players that Kobe played with throughout his career.
The point of this list is to take a look back throughout Kobe's career and find some of the more intriguing players that Kobe played that you may have forgotten about. Some of the names on this list are now in the hall-of-fame and maybe you just forgot that they wanted to end their career riding Kobe's coattails to a possible championship while sipping margaritas in the L.A. sunshine. Others on this list were guys that had promise and just never panned out into their full potential. Regardless of their individual story, it's safe to say that many fans forgot that these 15 players played for the Lakers in the Kobe era. Read, enjoy, and please feel free to leave a comment stating how many of these Lakers you forgot about over the years.
15 Gary Payton
In 2003-04, Gary Payton joined the Lakers in the twilight of his career in hopes of finally getting the opportunity to compete for an NBA Championship. While the Lakers did in fact make it to the NBA finals that season, Payton (also known as "The Glove" for his defensive prowess) and the rest of the star-studded Laker squad were sent home empty handed by the Coach Popovich led San Antonio Spurs.
Payton had a decent year as a Laker, finishing the season with averages of 14.6 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game, while also providing glimpses of the defensive skills that made him a star in the league. It was the only season in Los Angeles for Payton, as he moved on to Boston and then Miami to finish his hall-of-fame career. It's easy to forget that Payton played for the Lakers, but he wasn't the only NBA legend to have a forgettable stint in La La Land that year.
14 Karl Malone
Karl Malone is perhaps the greatest NBA player to never win a championship ring. In 2003-04, Malone looked to change that fact when he joined the star-studded Lakers to join forces with Bryant, Shaq, and fellow ring chasing legend Gary Payton. Malone was a two-time NBA MVP winner and the greatest player in the history of the Utah Jazz. He had come tantalizingly close to winning a ring in Utah in 1997 and 1998, but ultimately lost to the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls in each appearance.
In his last season in the NBA, Malone left Utah for the sunshine of Los Angeles in hopes that Kobe and Shaq would lead him to his first championship title. Malone again came so close to finally winning a ring that season, but the Lakers were upset in the finals by the tough and talented Detroit Pistons. Malone would retire after the season, officially becoming the greatest player to never win a championship ring.
13 Shannon Brown
Shannon Brown was perhaps the bounciest human being on the planet during his time with the Lakers. His dunks and blocks were always Sportcenter Top-10 material and seemed to defy gravity at times. The guy is only 6'4" tall but would consistently have his elbow above the rim on his dunks. If you can't recall just how impressive his highlights were, take a five minute break and search for his dunks on youtube. Seriously, it's worth it.
While Brown never developed into the all-around player the Lakers had hoped for, he was a solid piece off the bench and earned two championship rings with the team (2009, 2010). After leaving the Lakers in search of more playing time, Brown bounced around the league for a few seasons but was out of the NBA by 2014. Side Note: How are Shannon Brown and Chris Brown not related? Do they look identical or is it just me?
12 Nick Van Exel
When Kobe was acquired on draft night in 1996, he was not immediately handed the keys to the Lakers franchise (unlike Lonzo Ball is currently). This was because many Lakers fans already had fan favorites in incumbent starters Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones. In fact, Kobe only started 7 games in his first two NBA season. By 1998 it had become clear that Kobe was the future face of the franchise and many were unsure if Van Exel would accept that type of competition to his flashy stardom.
So the Lakers ended up trading Van Exel for Tryonn Lue on draft night in 1998. Van Exel would go on to put up career highs in Denver and remain one of the flashiest point guards in the league for a few seasons before becoming an NBA journeyman in the latter years of his career. In hindsight, it's a good thing the Lakers chose to invest in the young, but developing Bryant over the more proven Van Exel.
11 Byron Scott
After a successful collegiate career at Arizona State, Byron Scott was drafted by the San Diego Clippers with the #4 pick of the 1983 NBA draft. Scott was then immediately traded to the Lakers for Norm Nixon. Thus, Scott played the majority of his career with Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers, earning a championship ring in 1985, 1987, and 1988. Scott would leave the Lakers in 1993 and bounce around the league for a few years before returning as an old veteran in 1996.
While Scott didn't receive much playing time in his second stint with the Lakers, he provided great leadership and a mentor for the young Laker guards Nick Van Exel and Kobe Bryant. What makes this ironic is that Scott later became the Lakers head coach in 2014 and coached Kobe during his final two seasons. So Kobe's career was book-ended by guidance from Scott both as former player and later as a coach. That's pretty cool.
10 Trevor Ariza
In 2007, the Lakers traded aging veterans Brain Cook and Maurice Evans to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Trevor Ariza. Ariza has been quite the success story in the NBA, making a ton of money off of his ability to be a strong 3 & D wing player. His brand of basketball really took off during the 2008-2009 NBA Playoffs.
In that playoff run, Ariza came on strong for the Lakers and proved to be a pivotal starter who could make clutch plays when needed. During the playoffs, Ariza averaged 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals, while shooting nearly 50% from three-point range. While those numbers aren't groundbreaking, Ariza is exactly the type of teammate that an offensive star like Kobe Bryant needs. Ariza represents the underrate type of player that every championship team needs and he filled that role perfectly in the Lakers 2009 Championship.
9 Glen Rice
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Glen Rice was often viewed as one of the most purer shooters in the game. Rice earned all-star bids from 1996-1998 and was even named the 1997 all-star game MVP. The guy could clearly ball with the best of them and Lakers general manager Jerry West desperately wanted to bring to the west coast in hopes that his shooting ability would lead to less double teams on star center Shaquille O'Neal.
Unfortunately, Rice never felt accepted by the Lakers fans because he was traded for Los Angeles fan favorite Eddie Jones. But Rice did help the Lakers just as Jerry West envisioned and he performed very well during his time in purple and gold. Rice was a pivotal part of the 2000 championship team as the third scoring option behind Shaq and Kobe. Rice butted heads with Lakers management, however, so his stay in L.A. was cut short when he was traded to the Knicks in 2000-01.
8 Tyronn Lue
Tyronn Lue won two NBA Championships in his first three seasons in the NBA. Lue was originally drafted #23 by the Denver Nuggets in the 1998 NBA Draft, but was fortunately traded to the Lakers on draft night in exchange for Nick Van Exel. Lue hardly saw the court for the Lakers, especially during the championship playoff runs that were led by young Kobe and prime years Shaq.
It's fitting that Lue spent most of his time as a Laker sitting on the bench given that after his playing career ended in 2009, Lue stuck around the NBA as an assistant. It's even more fitting in that Lue re-joined the Lakers as an assistant coach in 2013. Now, Lue is a championship winning head coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Essentially Lue was given two championship rings as a player by Kobe and Shaq and then another as a coach by LeBron James. Must be nice!
7 Smush Parker
Kobe Bryant has to shudder when he hears the name "Smush." Not because of Smush Parker himself, but more so what Smush Parker meant to the Lakers franchise in the mid-2000s. The fact that Smush Parker was the starting point guard for the Lakers made it apparent just how lacking in NBA caliber talent the Lakers were from 2005 to 2007.
These were prime Kobe years that were being wasted by Lakers management. Seriously, Kobe averaged over 35 points in Smush's first season and single-handedly carried the Lakers to the playoffs. Had Kobe had any help on that team, it's quite possible that he could have carried the franchise to more NBA Championships than he did. Smush started nearly every game for the Lakers over that two year span and that is just sad given the fact that Kobe was in his prime. If I were a Laker fan, I would want to forget about Smush and those teams as well.
6 Antawn Jamison
In the same offseason that the Lakers acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, they also signed long-time NBA veteran Antawn Jamison to provide a spark off the bench. It appeared the Lakers were trying to create a super-team to take advantage of the last years of Kobe Bryant's prime. While neither Nash or Howard really worked out for the Lakers, Jamison played his role as the savvy veteran pretty well.
The Lakers ended up making the playoffs that season (2012-13), but ultimately lost to the Spurs in the first round. Jamison averaged only 9 points and 5 rebounds per game as a Laker, which is a far cry from his career averages of 19 points and 8 rebounds per game. But still, it was worth the Lakers taking a shot on Jamison who could have provided pivotal veteran leadership if the Lakers had made a deep playoff run. Jamison retired one season later.
5 Steve Nash
It's hard to recall the excitement that surrounded the Lakers in the offseason in which they acquired both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard because of how bad the moves backfired on the franchise. Nash in particular was hard to swallow given the fact that the Lakers had traded multiple future first round picks to acquire the former 2-time league MVP. The Lakers were aware that Nash's best days were likely behind him, but they could not have imagined that his body would fail him and injuries would derail any value he could have brought to the team.
In his final year with the Suns, Nash still averaged over 12 points and 10 assists per game, but in his following two seasons with the Lakers Nash was never averaged more than 7 assists per game. In his final season (2013-14), Nash only played in 15 games due to back injuries that would not subside. Nash's poor play for the Lakers in exchange for multiple first round picks is often viewed by Suns fans as Nash's final gift to the Phoenix franchise. Kobe was not pleased.
4 Vlade Divac
After the 2003-04 season, the Lakers decided to part ways with the majority of their core from the season before (O'Neal, Malone, Payton, Fisher, etc.,). In the midst of this transition, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak decided to sign the 37-year-old Vlade Divac to help fill some of the void and mentor the younger developing players. This was, of course, Divac's second stint with the Lakers so Divac was already widely adored by many older Laker fans.
Unfortunately, the Divac plan didn't work out due to Divac suffering from back injuries that kept him sidelined most of the season. Still, it was cool to see Divac and Bryant on the same team. It was two generations of Lakers basketball clashing together for a historic, albeit forgettable moment. This was especially memorable given the fact that Vlade Divac was traded from the Lakers to the Hornets in 1996 in exchange for the draft rights of Kobe Bryant. Everything came full-circle.
3 Caron Butler
As their reign of NBA dominance was coming to an end, the Lakers decided to rebuild their roster with younger talent to surround Kobe Bryant with. Part of this decision was also due to the rising tensions between the Lakers star duo of Bryant and Shaq, essentially creating an ultimatum in which the Lakers were forced to move one of their stars. So the Lakers shipped O'Neal to the Miami heat in exchange for Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, and a young Caron Butler.
The Lakers were excited about Butler's potential and immediately made him a starter in their youthful, rebuilding starting five. Butler played well for the Lakers and averaged 15.5 points and 6 rebounds per game, while also providing consistent defense and effort. For some reason, after only one season with the Lakers the team decided to trade Butler to Washington for former #1 pick Kwame Brown. This trade definitely favored the Wizards as Butler went on to make two all-star games during his Washington tenure. Butler and Bryant had potential to be a solid one-two punch, but we'll never know how good they could have been.
2 Mitch Richmond
After coming off back-to-back championship seasons, the Lakers added one of the best scorers of the 1990's when they signed Mitch Richmond to join the team and provide veteran leadership off the bench in exchange for an opportunity to win a ring. That agreement proved to be perfect for Richmond as he was able to win his first and only NBA championship.
Although Richmond was a 7-time all-star during his time with the Sacramento Kings, it's difficult to remember him playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. This is in large part due to the face that he played so sparingly for the Lakers. In a fitting way for an underrated legend to retire, Richmond was on the court at the end of Game 4 of the NBA finals and was the one who dribbled the final seconds off the clock to preserve the Lakers sweep and third straight NBA Championship.
1 Adam Morrison
Adam Morrison was one of the greatest collegiate players of his generation, leading Gonzaga back to relevancy and being named Co-Player of the Year with J.J. Redick. In fact, Morris led the nation in scoring his Junior year with 28.1 points per game. His scoring ability and unique style of play for his height (6'8") made him the #3 overall pick by the Charlotte Bobcats in the 2006 NBA Draft.
Morrison turned out to be a huge bust in the NBA and never lived up to his immense potential. His odd-ball personality would also often rub fans and team executives the wrong way and led to him bouncing around the league with teams hoping they "save" his talent. Morris was traded to the Lakers in 2008 with Shannon Brown, but received very minimal playing time. Still, the former bust had perfect timing as he won two NBA Championships by sitting at the end of the Lakers bench for two seasons. Morrison never played in the NBA again after the 2010 season.