The Los Angeles Lakers are the epitome of perpetual title contention; they are the embodiment of getting it right.
Year in and year out, the Lakers are in the thick of a championship race. After all, this is a team that hit "rock bottom" because they fell in sequence to the eventual NBA champion Dallas Mavericks in 2011. As disappointing a display as that was, the fact that such an exit was unacceptable is a true testament to the model franchise that is Los Angeles.
Why are we compelled to watch the Lakers on a daily basis? Is it the flair that comes with playing in a big market? Is it the smorgasbord of stars that have traipsed their way in and out of Tinseltown? Are we just naturally drawn to the shiny gold jerseys?
While each of the former may play a part in heightening the intrigue Los Angeles has to offer, the fact is we want to watch this team—even if we're not Lakers fans—because every season, without fail, this is an entity worth watching.
And that's something plenty of other organizations should take notice of, especially those that boast a perennial franchise cornerstone who draws in the masses and means nearly as much to his team as Kobe Bryant does to the Lakers.
Do you think it's easy to put a well-polished product on the floor year after year? It's not, regardless of how talented your primary foundation may be. Just ask the teams that have wound up bidding adieu to their beloved superstars because they couldn't actualize such a concept.
Mitch Kupchak, though, has managed to keep the Lakers more than relevant for nearly 15 years. He's managed to navigate the mine field that comes with boasting a superstar like Bryant. He's appeased Kobe's ego when necessary and put him in his rightful place when the situation called for it.
Again, do you think that is easy? Not even the Mavericks can attest to how difficult it is. Sure, they've reached the postseason for 12 consecutive years, but only a handful of those appearances—five to be exact—can be considered deep playoff runs.
The Lakers, though? They've appeared in fewer than 10 playoff games just three times in the past 12 years. That's nothing short of spectacular, and the quintessential example of a finely tuned, well-oiled machine.
And while much of the Lakers' success can be attributed to Bryant's own accolades, there's no excuse for overlooking the resourcefulness of this franchise as a whole.
Los Angeles' résumé reads like a book of consistent success, yet the winning formula and highly touted reputation hasn't come easy. There have been numerous occasions where the Lakers were forced to reshuffle, restructure and concoct a new blueprint for success.
Unlike most teams, though, the word "rebuild" was never uttered within the confines of the Staples Center. Kupchak and company have a penchant for switching gears on the fly, without compromising the team's ability to remain competitive.
Remember when the Lakers were forced to move on from Shaquille O'Neal in 2004? Even with a player in tow like Bryant, such a move would have crippled most franchises.
Not the Lakers. They persevered, received a passable package in exchange for Shaq and remained a part of the championship conversation, embarking on a back-to-back title quest merely four seasons later.
And how about just a few months ago, when Los Angeles was handed its second-straight second-round exit in the playoffs? This team was done, right?
Except that the Lakers weren't. Kupchak, once again, refused to waste Bryant's presence. He went out and landed Steve Nash for peanuts, Dwight Howard for an entrée and Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks for table scraps.
Now, yet again, the Lakers are unquestionable title contenders and Kupchak, for what seems like the upteenth time, has not only salvaged, but capitalized off a deteriorating team dynamic.
As tumultuous of a ride as Kobe's tenure in Hollywood has been, most stars would give their dominant shooting hand for the type of crafty loyalty he has been sheltered by his entire career.
Don't you think Nowitzki would have welcomed the opportunity for the Mavericks to be a perpetual title threat, as opposed to an on-again, off-again contender? Wasn't one of the driving forces behind Howard's dysfunctional departure from the Magic the franchise's inability to put a championship-worthy product on the hardwood consistently? Did Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Chris Paul not spurn their previous organization's for the same reason?
Let's face it, had the Cavaliers been more Kupchak-like and Laker-esque in assembling and re-assembling a supporting cast around James, The Chosen One would still be in Cleveland. Had the Magic exuded the ability to seamlessly restructure and usher out unfavorable contracts like the Lakers, Howard wouldn't be donning purple and gold right now. And had the Suns constructively coped in the post Amar'e Stoudemire era, Nash wouldn't be set to take the floor for one of their arch nemesis'.
For these teams that have witnessed, developed and loved a superstar only to lose them to greener pastures, they must pick up on the precedent the Lakers have set the next time around. And for the teams who currently have star-studded athletes in their possession, they must begin to emulate everything Kupchak and the Lakers have come to represent.
Because, first and foremost, the NBA is a business, one where player loyalty exists for only so long without proper reciprocity. Kevin Garnett could only stand so much in Minnesota and even Kevin Durant, the poster-boy for genuine intentions, wouldn't devote himself to a Thunder team that wasn't committed to winning every year.
Not all teams understand that—Kupchak and the Lakers do. They've done everything necessary to ensure Bryant's endeavors are anything but empty, his efforts anything but futile and his talent anything but wasted.
So, instead of chastising Los Angeles out of envy, let us pay homage to the team that has gotten it right and continues to get it right. Let us revel in a proven recipe for success of a franchise attempting to consistently build around one star.
Because when it comes to winning, roster upkeep and appeasing and utilizing the talents of a superstar, the end has to justify the means.
And, somewhat ironically, the Lakers have proven the best way to do that is by ensuring there is no actual end in sight.