Kobe Bryant has never seemed so disinterested in the conclusion of a season than this past year, and for good reason. The Lakers (26-55) finished with the sixth-worst record in the NBA and will be taking part in the upcoming NBA Lottery, a place they never plan to be.
For the most part, the 2013-2014 season was representative of the mediocre players and personnel on display. When Bryant decided to take an early leave for France with his family this past week before the Lakers' season ended, there wasn't much else to say except 'see you in the summer'.
Following their yearly exit interviews, the Lakers have found themselves in a unique predicament - one that the Purple and Gold hasn't experienced before. For the first time in franchise history, the Lakers aren't sure if they can return to the top - not because they don't have the money or the appeal, but because their ownership and vision have changed.
As time continues to push forward, so do the negative impacts of Dr. Jerry Buss' passing.
As things stand, the Lakers are looking at major changes to the roster and the coaching staff. While Mike D'Antoni still has one year remaining on his contract, his job security is suspect at best, and with an expiring contract for veteran big man Pau Gasol, the Lakers could also be saying goodbye to the Spaniard for good. Add in Nick Young opting for free agency and Jordan Hill contemplating whether or not his role is adequate, and the Lakers might as well be looking at a completely different roster next season.
This could go two very different ways: investing in youth or betting the house on established talent.
Change is inevitable for the Lakers either way. With an aging Bryant and an injury-prone Steve Nash - as well as a roster that features nothing but average role players - the Lakers fully understand the importance of the upcoming offseason. Their road towards bettering themselves will begin and end with their decision to keep their lottery pick or trade it for max-deal player like Kevin Love.
Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak will be the ones deciding which direction the Lakers go this offseason, and they'll have plenty to consider.
On one hand, the potential of the Jabari Parkers and Dante Exums of the world may seem appealing, but on the other, signing Love or Melo could return the team to contention immediately. The one constant in either of these decisions is change, and after these moves, the Lakers would presumably be better.
The bottom line is that the Lakers have options, and it's going to come down to whether or not they pan out in the short-term. Bryant hasn't been shy about wanting to win now, and his opinion carries a great deal of weight in the front office.
If the Lakers decide to enter the draft or if they decide to make a run at a free agent, there's one thing they can't do: stick with Mike D'Antoni for another year. If they let D'Antoni hang around for another season, the Lakers could easily be looking at another dismal year.
The answer is simple: the current players just don't work well with D'Antoni's system, and that system is the very reason why the Lakers may be prematurely letting Gasol walk this summer. If the Lakers want a fresh start, it will have to begin with hiring a new head coach - ideally, someone who can control Bryant and values defense.
Kevin Ollie, anyone?
As the Lakers continue to plan out what could be their most important offseason in franchise history, one question stands above the rest: can the Lakers return to contention, and if so, how soon?
While the answer to this question will remained unanswered for now, it could lead to a shift in the NBA's balance of power moving forward. The Lakers and Celtics have been the two true dynasties throughout NBA history, but right now, their futures are as uncertain as they've ever been.
On the bright side, Bryant can at least look forward to his upcoming Showtime documentary "Kobe Bryant's Muse" in the meantime.Back to the Los Angeles Lakers Newsfeed