They have positioned themselves well for the distant future, even if they have an incredibly pricey immediate future. In the 2014-15 season—when Kobe's current deal runs out—Los Angeles has no money committed. Between now and then, recent moves have ensured that they stay competitive.
Kobe Bryant is always a captivating presence, but in this season, it's especially true.
It's a transitional year for Kobe, as he must hand over the reins of the Los Angeles offense for that offense to thrive. And though Bryant is among the smartest players in the league (a subjective judgment, based on his interviews), recent returns suggest he might be unwilling to make the necessary move.
He played well in the Olympic gold-medal game against Spain, but would often sling contested shots throughout the NBA playoffs. Last season, despite having Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol as viable options, Bryant shot 23 times per game, the most since 2006-07. He also shot only .527 in true shooting percentage, less than the team average.
It's especially interesting that Kobe needs to let go because he's the NBA's highest-paid player.
Next season, he's set to make $27,849,149, and $30,453,805 in the season after that. You could be sympathetic to the Laker star, insofar as you can be sympathetic to someone making that much money. He's paid to be "the guy," and it might be hard to process the need for a lesser role under such circumstances.
But a lesser role is needed, as is a Kobe Bryant evolution.
The Lakers added Steve Nash, who has a history of running potent offense via the pick-and-roll. The "PnR" Nash action usually has to involve a big man, so as to stretch a defense. Perhaps you recall seeing this about 1,000 times over the course of Nash's seven-seconds-or-less reign of offensive terror.
To get Nash at his best, it likely means a heaping of plays that do not involve Kobe Bryant. For Bryant to be at his most helpful, the "off guard" must play off the ball.
The Lakers have to squander someone's skills, just because they have so much talent. There is only one basketball, and the shot clock goes for 24 seconds—not infinity.
In the meantime, the Lakers do need some iteration of Kobe. While they must be less dependent on him than ever before, he's nearly irreplaceable when you consider L.A.'s wing depth.
Metta World Peace (yes, that is still his name) put up an 11.0 PER last season. He can create little offense outside of the open three-pointer and he shot a meager .296 on threes last year. And yes, I know he has a habit of hitting the big ones.
The Lakers must actually get themselves in such a position where Metta's pressure-impervious ways can help them first.
In short, Kobe fills a need in the short term, but they also need less of him.
It's a bit of a paradox and might increasingly be one as the next two years pass. But, if the Lakers can sign Dwight Howard for the next five years, they should be creating a team from a position of strength.
Dwight is quite the building block, as wishy-washy as he may be. The Lakers will eventually, in theory, begin an era of Dwight Howard, plus no other commitments. It's no assurance of future success, but it's an excellent place to start anew.
Yes, the Lakers are dependent on Kobe. No, they shouldn't be in the future.