Kobe Bryant has been sidelined for the third straight year with a season-ending injury, but in the midst of what may end up being a historically bad Lakers campaign, he’s not missing much.
Bryant anticipates being once again ready to go in time for the start of next season, which is the final one he’s under contract to play with the Lakers.
Despite wanting to get back to competing for championships, Bryant knows that the franchise can’t go all-in by making unwise personnel decisions that could cripple the team for seasons to come.
Mitch Kupchak has said that he won’t add veterans just because next year may be Bryant’s last, and Kobe seems to be in agreement with a longer-term plan that will set the Lakers up for a more sustained measure of success.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak recently said he will not squander the team’s financial flexibility and youth for more established veterans just to strengthen Bryant’s chances of securing his sixth NBA championship in what might mark his final NBA season. When relayed about Kupchak’s strategy, Bryant repeatedly nodded his head to convey support and understanding.
“It’s a balance of both,” Bryant said. “You always want to set the franchise up for the long term. Mitch and I are on the same page. What he said in the interview is not something that we haven’t talked about before. It’s nothing different. You don’t want to compromise the future of the franchise for one season. You try to balance that.”
There’s still a possibility that the Lakers can improve substantially next season, even by sticking to the long-term rebuilding approach. The team will have enough cap space to offer a max deal to someone in free agency, and while the top-tier guys like Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge are likely to stay where they are, there will be some movement, and the Lakers may overpay someone (like Goran Dragic, Rajon Rondo or Draymond Green, perhaps) to jumpstart that process.
L.A. also may have a high pick to use in this summer’s draft (as long as they end up with a top-five selection), and will have Julius Randle returning from injury in time for next season.
All of that could help the Lakers get better more quickly than expected, but Bryant isn’t counting on anything else.