Last Laker Standing: Where does Kobe and the Lakers go from here?

(Photo: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

As the Lakers worst season (27-55) in Los Angeles comes to a merciful ending there remains a myriad of questions regarding the future of the team. In a season where the team was devastated with injuries there was little the much maligned coach Mike D’antoni could do to prevent a trip to the draft lottery. Ever changing line-ups, questionable rotations and lackluster talent isn’t helping his chances of returning as coach next year either.

Frankly, not even Phil Jackson himself could have mustered much success from the D-league caliber roster. And despite a failed return by Kobe Bryant after his Achilles’ tendon blowout he remains the sole superstar on the team and he’ll be facing 2015 with a lot of uncertainty.

He along with Steve Nash and Robert Sacre are contractually guaranteed to return next year. No decision has been made on D’antoni as head coach and depending on the day Pau Gasol may be moving on. Which is a shame in a way because as beleaguered as the former champ and all-star was about his toughness among other things he remained professional and as productive throughout the debacle of the season. And if he does not resign Kobe will be the only link to the glory days when the Lakers were not only competitive but perennial favorites to win the NBA championship. Kobe, so disgusted and frustrated with the dismal state of affairs, is already on vacation even before the Lakers played their last game.

(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

Steve Nash at age 40 has been a shell of his former self with recurring back and nerve problems. He only played about a dozen games this season and is determined to return next year to complete his contract and get paid. Many fans wished he’d retire because even though he showed flashes of brilliance and reminded us of why the Lakers signed him in the first place he has become an injury waiting to happen. If nothing else he’ll probably spend next year mentoring whatever point guards are on the roster if and when he goes down to the disabled list.

Unfortunately, the NBA draft doesn’t seem to be much of a cause for celebration and source for immediate help to rebuild the Lakers. While experts claim that the draft is deep there is no breakthrough superstar in the making. They’re are likely picking sixth barring a miracle ping to pong their way higher but among those declared and undeclared for the draft are Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid from Kansas, Jabari Parker from Duke, Australia’s Dante Exum, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, Indiana’s Noah Vonleh, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis and Creighton’s Doug McDermott, among others.

If there is a hidden gem among these young players it’ll be up to Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss to find him. This doesn’t stir a lot of confidence in fans who’ve written Jim off as incompetent and blame him for the collapse of the franchise.

In all fairness, choosing D’antoni as coach was his dad’s choice, the late great Dr. Jerry Buss. He did try to trade for Chris Paul in the infamous nixed deal by former commissioner David Stern. He did convince Dwight Howard to come to L.A. and while that blew up, Jim has tried to make the right moves but now the urgency and pressure to make a lasting winning impression is the highest it’s ever been.

Does he get rid of D’antoni with one year left on his contract? Can he find a remarkable young player in the draft? Can he surround Kobe with the proper talent via trade? These are still questions no one can confidently answer. Only time will tell.

Photo: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times
Photo: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times

And in the end we are left with the only constant on the court for the last 17 years – Kobe Bean Bryant. Many in the media decried the 2-year/$48.5 million contract extension the Lakers gave him as foolhardy and a crippling blow to their rebuilding plan. But how do you reward your only superstar, who has worked harder than anyone, to bring a championship year after year to your organization? A living legend who has nothing left to prove but is driven to win against all odds and somehow he should be forced by public opinion to reduce his worth to help management, who may or may not make the right decisions, make other moves?

Kobe has been the beacon of hope every year. The one guy you knew would that would be ready and drag his teammates along if necessary. The temperamental leader who’d workout hours before the game and finish his free throws after blowing his Achilles. He is a breed of player that is too rare in this game of mostly mediocre talent. A watered down league that promotes image over substance. Kobe is the last of the old school warriors in purple and gold. He made his bones when toughness mattered and not the latest sandwich shop commercial. You reward your future Hall-of-Famer with a contract befitting of his stature and know that he’ll earn every penny of it.


– Enrique Rea


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