The Los Angeles Lakers will never replace Kobe Bryant. And once that nugget of truth becomes reality for legions of Lakers' fans, they will understand that ushering in the post-Kobe era isn't as easy as you think.
The Lakers are arguably the greatest franchise in NBA history, and despite their success, and the number of all-time greats who have graced their rosters, the team has always come before individuals.
In Kobe's case it's hard to differentiate between the player and the team.
Kobe is the Lakers, and regardless of how you feel about him, Kobe's presence has defined the franchise for nearly two decades.
Consider that Kobe has worn the purple and gold longer than any other Laker great, and there are more than a few people who would agree that Bryant has represented those colors better than any other Laker in history.
In fact, the two greatest Lakers of all time feel that title should singularly go to Bryant.
Jerry West and Magic Johnson say Kobe is the greatest Laker of all time, and if their opinion is not enough, Bryant's biggest nemesis, Shaquille O'Neal, seconds their motion.
Love him or hate him, Kobe has helped maintain the bar that was set for him by the players mentioned above, and in the process he has also created a relationship with Lakers' fans that can never be re-produced.
Kobe is certainly one of the greatest players to ever dribble a ball, but through the years fans have also been able to see the human side of Bryant as well.
Bryant has struggled, failed, triumphed and persevered, and he has done it all as a Laker.
Of course there were moments of doubt on Bryant's side and that of the Lakers, but Kobe ultimately chose to carve his legacy in Los Angeles. And fans love him for it.
Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle will never change that, and unfortunately, if the Lakers are bad enough during the 2013-14 season to land one of the top players in next season'a NBA draft, one of them will get a first-hand account of what it really means to be a Laker.
Even if the Lakers are respectable next season with Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and hopefully Bryant leading the way, avoiding the lottery may not pay dividends.
The Lakers may have a ridiculous amount of money to spend on free agents next summer, but does it really matter if none of the top prizes are interested in coming to Hollywood?
LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are expected to be the biggest free agents available next season, and the Lakers have signaled that they plan to chase each player, but LeBron seems more comfortable building his legacy in Miami, and Carmelo is happy in New York.
Native Californian Paul George is a natural fit for the Lakers, and his home-town roots and respect for Kobe make him a logical fit to succeed Bryant. Except that George likes what the Pacers are building in Indiana, and regardless of what the Lakers may offer him, the Pacers reserve the right to match their offer.
Dwight Howard's departure despite the possibility of more money and a higher profile may have highlighted something that most Lakers fans would have previously thought impossible.
NBA fans today have little respect for the history of the league, and while Kobe may be held in high regard by most of the game's players, few of them seem overly interested in maintaining the legacy of the Lakers franchise.
However, the Lakers didn't become a great franchise by living up to the expectations of others. They became great by defying them.
The Lakers have been in tough situations before, and through each decade they have been able to overcome those obstacles and remain relevant.
Ushering in the post-Kobe era may be the franchise's greatest effort yet, but history has shown us before that the team will always be greater than the player. I'm just not sure how long it will take for the Lakers to get another player who makes me believe that after following Bryant for 17 seasons.
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