The Los Angeles Lakers sound like a team that got left at the altar. Dwight Howard packed up and signed with the Houston Rockets, ending a messy one-year relationship. Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, the Buss family still struggles to come to grips with the one that got away. “
They would’ve probably had a better relationship if my dad hadn’t been sick.” Jeanie Buss told ESPN 710 Radio Thursday. “When it came time to try to convince Dwight to stay, we lost the best closer in the business.”
Indeed, the late great Doctor Buss was a mastermind at negotiation. The blinding sight of pristine gold trophies lining a windowsill is still quite possibly the best sales pitch in the NBA. But if the trophies didn’t work on Dwight, and the ‘Stay D-12’ billboards didn’t work either, does this mean the Lakers have lost some of their prestige? Laker fans would undoubtedly scream no.
I guess we have to agree to disagree.
The telltale sign of whether the Lakers have lost their luster is what happens to Kobe Bryant this season and his thoughts on playing beyond that. Bryant, signed through this upcoming season, told reporters in China recently he’s ‘shattered the recovery’ for an ACL injury. Bryant says he is also walking and putting weight on the knee.
Jim Buss feels Kobe may even be back for preseason action, but it’s inevitable: Kobe WILL retire one day. And when that day comes, he will arguably go down as the greatest Laker ever. What will the Lakers do then? Who would they attract to fill Kobe’s shoes?
The reigning MVP LeBron James headlines a 2014 free agent class that includes Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony among others. The Lakers will also need to decide what to do with Pau Gasol, who will also be a free agent.
These are tough decisions that come at a tough time. The new collective bargaining agreements make it far too costly for owners’ tastes these days. Many teams have already shed payroll to prepare for 2014, including the Lakers. Will the Lakers shell out the big bucks to rebuild?
With so many question marks hanging over the franchise, the pressure’s on for Mitch Kupchak to land some key pieces next summer. As of right now, this team as assembled is not championship-caliber, a stance Magic Johnson shares as well. Misguided fans in L.A. have even raised the debate of tanking the season for picks. The Lakers tanking?
Say it ain’t so. Laker fans.
Those gold trophies are still shining, but they’re fading and getting dusty. If the Lakers want big-name free agents and a team that can compete in the Western Conference, it may take the payroll into the luxury tax level, because there’s only one hip destination in Los Angeles at the moment, and they’re not wearing purple and gold.
The Lakers may still be the big kids on the block, but gone are those days when they could rely on their name alone.