At some point in the not-so-distant future, Kobe Bryant will hang up his sneakers, assimilate into the sepia-toned visage of NBA greats and take his rightful place among the pantheon of basketball legends. We will forever draw comparisons between the silky smooth assassin that is Kobe to the gravity defying Michael and triangulate the whole process by tossing LeBron into the mix. No last names needed here, they're all that special.
But that discussion is for another day because Bryant is still a member in good standing of the Los Angeles Lakers. Granted he will be 35-years-old at the start of next season and coming off an Achilles injury that could hasten the decline of the man who has been the face of the franchise since the mid 90's. And while the verdict is out on what kind of Kobe returns, the fact is he will be inextricably woven into the fabric of this LA roster until he decides to walk away.
However, hitching your wagon to a fading star can be lethal to a franchise and LA is no exception. I don't envision Kobe quietly assuming the role as a sixth man or as the elder statesman relegated to the sidelines while younger, less talented men chew up playing time. No, Kobe will want the ball and the spotlight that comes with it. He's never known anything else.
Kobe, unlike Michael Jordan, is not a natural leader of men. He's had to learn the nuances of leadership and forge that into his personality. But that is simply a byproduct of getting older and wiser. Kobe's true passion has always been - Kobe. So don't expect him to suddenly take a step back and allow the young blood to take center stage. No, number 24 will go out with a bang not a whimper, and therefore he will be the man as long as he's in a Lakers uniform.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has much to think about. He has to wonder whether he can lure the surly Dwight Howard back into the fold by offering him the league maximum as well as a colossal stage to house his equally colossal ego. Personally, this guy is way too much drama and diva for my taste. Shaq would have schooled this fool back in the day but due to the dearth of bona fide NBA centers today, Howard is the best in class. I say he re-signs for a big money, long term contract that will plague the Lakers for years to come. This kid is 27-years-old and already has back issues not to mention that he carries more baggage than Jet Blue.
Pau Gasol will stay put with one more year and $19 million on the books. Meta World Peace will be shown the door via the amnesty clause while questions swirl whether Steve Nash's 39-year-old body can withstand the rigors of the two years he has left on his contract. If not, then LA will hand the keys to the car over to Steve Blake. But is Steve Blake the point guard of the foreseeable future?
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The Down and Dirty
This team is cooked...for next year anyway. Kobe will be lucky if he returns to the starting lineup by the beginning of December. Once he does return, how good will he be? At 35 he's not getting better and when you factor in a torn Achilles, well now you may have some real problems. If Kobe feels his game is DOA then he won't hang around. He will immediately exit the scene and the Lakers fans will have to get used to the word rebuilding.
While Kobe is sidelined, Gasol creeps firmly into middle age and Steve Nash may be more comfortable as a spokesperson for Centrum Silver than as a point guard for the Lakers. As for Howard, he'll decide that he's snake bitten yet again when indeed another coach, this time it's Mike D'Antoni, is ruining his vibe, disrupting his chakra and crushing his mojo. D'Antoni will be shown the door and Howard will ultimately choose the coach for the 2014-2015 season.
But don't despair Lakers fans because that's the year of what could be a prodigious free agent class. And if we know one thing about LA, it's got the gravitational pull to attract any star - maybe even LeBron!
One thing is for sure, pay attention to the Lakers to stay on top of next season's NBA picks.