Can Los Angeles Lakers Rebuild Fast Enough to Extend Kobe Bryant's Title Window?

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 20:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers poses for a picture with his 5 NBA Championship trophies at STAPLES Center on March 20, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Six.

That's still the number Kobe Bryant cares about most. Not five, the number of NBA championships he already has, but six, the number he wants, the number the Los Angeles Lakers want to give him.

One.

That's how many years Bryant will have to wait until chasing a sixth championship becomes possible. Despite his wishes, there is no title for the Purple and Gold to win or contend for next season. Too much rebuilding and retooling needs to be done, and there isn't enough time or talent available to make it happen.

One.

That's also the number of years Bryant will have to win his sixth championship, assuming he intends to retire once his new extension runs its course, putting himself and the Lakers in a race against time and conventional wisdom.

 

Immediately Stuck 

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 22: Kobe Bryant #24, Pau Gasol #16, and Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers sit in the training room before facing the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on October 22, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

"This organization is just not going to go [down]," Bryant told Darren Rovell for SportsCenter's "Sunday Conversation," per ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin. "It's not going to take a nose dive. But I think we need to accelerate it a little bit for selfish reasons, because I want to win and I want to win next season."

Never has there been an NBA franchise less inclined to take a "nose dive" than the Lakers, who have turned breakneck rebuilds into art forms. But as Bryant approaches 36, he must find that happy medium between patience and urgency, intentions and reality. 

The faith he places in the Lakers' organization is closer to a plea than it is a mandate. He has no leverage after signing his latest extension, putting him at the behest of whatever assurances the Lakers fed him months ago.

"That was one of my concerns [when he re-signed] and they assured me, 'This is fair for you for everything you've done for the franchise and will continue to do while being able to construct a team that is going to contend for a championship here over the next couple of years,'" he said.

Promises of immediate contention aren't empty, though they are conditional.

Don't expect the Lakers to spend freely this summer.
Don't expect the Lakers to spend freely this summer.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Next season's Lakers team won't be a cavalcade of stars and winning, and that will happen by design. As Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding previously revealed, the team is "not planning a free-agent spending spree this summer," thinking it makes more sense to conserve cap space and assets for the summer of 2015.

None of which is to say the Lakers will be bystanders in free agency this summer, mostly because they can't. Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre are the only guaranteed contracts on their 2014-15 ledger, meaning the Lakers must once again fill out their roster with modest talent on flexible—likely one-year—contracts.

Taking this approach kills any hope the Lakers have of staging a superstar free-agency coup this summer. But it's not like that hope was overwhelming.

Pairing Bryant with Carmelo Anthony is something the Lakers would presumably steer clear of no matter what. Overpaying two ball-dominant stars on the wrong side of 30 is reckless and therefore potentially disastrous.

Reactionary spending can easily turn to blank-check writing if LeBron James decides to ditch the Miami Heat to drum up Bryant's ring count, but as Chris Bosh said on ESPN Radio's The Dan Le Batard Show, per B/R's own Ethan Skolnick, both he and the King are unlikely to go anywhere.

Once you remove those three names from the list, the best free agent slated to be available this summer is Luol Deng, who won't turn the fortunes of a franchise the way a James or Anthony can. He won't cost nearly as much, either, hence the Lakers' interest in pursuing him, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst.

Next season's ceiling is on Kobe to elevate.
Next season's ceiling is on Kobe to elevate.Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Deliberately quiet offseason maneuvers won't preclude the Lakers from making the tanker-to-contender jump next season, nor does it guarantee better days are immediately ahead. Instead, it puts them in familiar hands—Bryant's.

Immediate contention is predicated on Bryant's return to stardom as the NBA's resident Father Time heretic. If he can play the way he did in 2012-13, if Steven Nash—assuming he's still around—can contribute at all and if they strike lottery gold in the 2014 draft, they can go places—probably not to the NBA Finals but most definitely the playoffs.

If and when they do make that instantaneous jump, though, it won't be because Lakers brass impulsively caved to Bryant's colossal expectations. It will be because whatever team the Lakers assemble will have exceeded theirs. 

 

Waiting to Exhale...In 2015 

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 23: Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves celebrates during a game against the Phoenix Suns on March 23, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
David Sherman/Getty Images

That brings us to 2015, when free-agency fireworks are expected to go off.

Next summer, any combination of Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Roy Hibbert, among others, will be available. Depending on whether they sign new deals in Miami or opt in for another year, Bosh and James could be available, too.

It's then the Lakers will strike, spending large sums of cash with an instant turnaround on the brain. And it's then they will predictably succeed.

Love to Los Angeles feels like a foregone conclusion on bad days. The stretch forward was born in Santa Montica, attended UCLA and is losing superfluously in Minnesota. The groundwork for him to sport purple and gold is being laid, well on its way to becoming reality.

But even if it's not Love, it will be somebody else. The Lakers will do what they must and spend what they must to form a contender for 2015-16, known from here on as "Kobe's last hurrah."

 

Down to the Wire

Is one year enough time?

Who knows? But it is time. 

Additional time.

Propping championship windows open for generously paid superstars on the wrong end of 35 is no easy task. The San Antonio Spurs have it down to a science, but the Lakers have rarely embraced success-by-committee dynamics that reign supreme in Texas.

Star power is what they seek—and generally get. Whether it's signing Shaquille O'Neal, trading for Pau Gasol, gambling on Dwight Howard or extending Bryant, their attraction to big names never ceases to prevail.

In this case, it needs to prevail. Big names are the only ones capable of turning the Lakers around in the time their blueprint—not to mention Bryant's contract—allots. 

"We might have had the worst season ever or could have the worst season ever for a Lakers team, but now let's have the greatest comeback that the league has ever seen," Bryant told Rovell, per McMenamin.

Sounds good.

In 2015, it will even sound plausible.

Five will still be the number of championships Bryant has to his name

Six will still be the number he's chasing.

One season, one final chance at six will be what the Lakers can offer him.

 

Salary information via ShamSports.