It started on that April night in Oakland, California when Kobe Bryant tore his ACL. Looking back, it almost feels as if the Los Angeles Lakers’ immediate future collapsed along with him. In the events that immediately followed, a mediocre Lakers team led by an injured and disgruntled Dwight Howard was swept in the first round of the 2013 playoffs and Howard subsequently left the bright lights of L.A. for a quieter setting in Houston.
Since then, the Lakers have encountered a dilemma that has them stuck in limbo: the choice between aiding their aging superstar in his race against Father Time and beginning the rebuilding process to create a future contender.
Kobe still believes in his ability to not only be a force in this league, but to also be the headliner on a championship team. However, the chances of him getting one last shot and earning his sixth title grow slimmer and slimmer with each passing offseason.
Take this one for example: the Lakers set out trying to reel in big name free agents such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, but instead were forced to settle for average talents like Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer. They also lost an elite veteran power forward and a key piece in Pau Gasol. The addition of Julius Randle through the NBA Draft is promising, but won’t pay immediate dividends. The harsh reality of this is that as great as he has been, a 36-year-old coming off of a serious injury with a sub par supporting cast just isn’t an attractive selling point for some of the best players in the world.
Now, granted, the Lakers still have some capital in money and draft picks to play with in the 2015 and 2016 offseasons. The trade for Jeremy Lin also brought in a first and second round pick in next year’s draft and the Lakers have enough cap space to make a run at high-end 2015 free agents like Rajon Rondo and California native Kevin Love (if he doesn’t resign with Cleveland).
However, in the here and now, fans can expect to see a team consisting of Kobe and an assorted cast of has-beens (Carlos Boozer, the highly disappointing Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin) could-bes (Randle and former Grizzlies forward Ed Davis) and average role players (Swaggy P, Jordan Hill and Xavier Henry).
But the saddest part might be that a fan base accustomed to the expectation of championships has to settle for mediocrity.