This is still Kobe Bryant’s team. While Nash is contemplating retirement, Bryant must also be realizing this is his last two seasons in the league. It just happens to be unfortunate that this season is spent rehabbing injuries. If he had a choice, he’d work out in every way possible to recover faster and get onto the basketball court, but this is no longer his choice. His body will heal at its own rate.
What does this mean for the Lakers?
The Laker team can integrate Kobe Bryant into the team. While he is the face of the franchise, his image carries with it the championships, the leadership, and the courage to take game winning shots. It is no longer about the thrilling dunks, the scoring outputs, or the defensive plays that have won games.
The Lakers may be following the Celtics route to a championship of the late 2000′s. The Celtics spearheaded a big-three lineup with a developing young player who could eventually take the reigns of the franchise. Getting to that point won’t be easy. No team wants to help the Lakers. Still, the Lakers will be in the lottery at the end of this season. Playoff hopes have dwindled. Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak need to acquire as much franchise talent as possible while making Bryant a part of the duo, or triumvirate. There is a huge challenge that lies ahead. Can that really be done without Pau? Would Kevin Love and Kobe Bryant be enough?
Kobe thinking of himself in a Paul Pierce role seems unfathomable. He has worked too hard for that. It isn’t his mind or his will that has broken down, but his body. He’s not exactly taking lessons from Bruce Lee and integrating yoga like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did to extend his career. Instead, he has used dietary changes and improved skill level to maximize his effectiveness on the floor. Still, he will be the go-to-guy at the end of games, just like Paul Pierce. He will be asked to distribute the ball more, just like Paul Pierce. He won’t be taking on the toughest defensive assignments anymore, just like Paul Pierce.
In the end, it’s about accumulating as much basketball talent for the Lakers as a whole. While I have cheered for the current team, I can’t imagine all of them remaining as Laker players next season. Each of them has worked really hard and developed throughout the year. However, none of them have stepped up to be a consistent starter for the Laker team, especially when championships are involved. The Lakers need to make all the correct choices; through the draft, through free agency, and through trades just to create another inkling of a championship window during Bryant’s last year. The difference is, this is the first time they’ll be rebuilding without a player to pass the torch onto. In a sense, they are starting from scratch. Still, I haven’t let go of the idea that I have seen Bryant’s last championship as a Laker. Neither has Bryant.