Make no mistake: There still exists a boatload of talent on the Lakers roster. They are capable of another championship run as long as they remain healthy and, more importantly, motivated. A roster featuring Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will strike fear into most teams for another couple of years at the very least.
But if you are sitting in Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak’s oversized office chair, you must be contemplating what the future will look like. Transitioning from an old, established winning franchise to a young one without losing a step is one of the most difficult balancing acts in professional sports.
Just take a look at the post-“Showtime” era of 1989-99. These Lakers, now old and retiring, struggled. Over the ensuing decade, the team failed to win a division championship, not to mention a world title. After getting blown out of the 1991 NBA Finals in five games by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the Lakers lost their legs.
L.A. lost in the first round of the playoffs the next two years and the following season (1993-94) did not even make the postseason, finishing with a dismal 33-49 record. It wasn’t until Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal arrived together in 1996 that the Lakers found their legs and started to jell again as a major contender for the championship.
It’s nearly impossible not to miss a beat in the NBA when your team begins to age and has a number of its players on long-term contracts.
Thus, the Lakers have a roster that can compete for a title this year and next, but after that they’ll need to retool.
The question then becomes how do you do that, and who are the five players the team should pursue now in order to prevent a five-year meltdown when the big stars can no longer fill it up and are on their last legs?