Well, if Kobe stays... everything will be alright.
Well, if Kobe can whip his teammates into shape... everything will be alright.
Well, if Dwight can just get along with Kobe... everything will be alright.
Well, even though Dwight left, if Kobe can keep it together with Pau... everything will be alright.
Well, if Kobe can come back and be just 80 percent of what he was... everything will be alright.
Well.... but what about this year?
This year, maybe for the first time in 15 years, everything might be alright... and it may have nothing to do with Kobe Bryant.
It's the eve of the 2015 NBA Draft, potentially one of THE most important days in Lakers history. LA has the second pick in tomorrow's festivities, looking to select an elite young prospect like Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns or D'Angelo Russell. If indeed the Lakers decide to keep this blue chipper, he'll join the likes of Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, alongside Ryan Kelly, Jabari Brown and potentially the #27 and #34 picks, creating something the team hasn't seen in nearly twenty years: a young, strong nucleus that will grow together. Even with trade rumors flying around the ether, with every minute the draft gets closer, the more likely it is that the organization is hurtling in this direction.
It's a direction that will depend on Okafor -- the most likely candidate to be the second selection -- and Randle to create a bruising frontline to bully the Lakers into being competitive again. It'll feature Clarkson as either a stalwart in the starting back court or a key offensive cog coming off the bench and igniting the scoring attack. It'll be a combination of these young men that will move the Lakers in one direction or another. Regardless of whether you believe this is a recipe for failure, complete success or somewhere in between, there's no doubt that this potential youth movement is a declarative statement, rather than the amorphous "asset gathering" phase we've seen for the past few years. Still... a key question remains.
So where does Kobe Bryant fit into all of this?
For the first time in over 15 years, the future and health of this organization doesn't rest on the Black Mamba's weary shoulders. Next season's success won't ride on Kobe. Whether they win or lose 65 games, the year will be measured in how well the youngsters play with one another, how they grow individually and if the coach is the right man to lead them going forward. For so many years, Lakernation has been hinging their hopes and dreams of the present and future on Bryant's performance and his amazing ability to seemingly single-handedly resurrect the franchise. That's simply no longer the case.
It's no secret that either this year, or a year very close to this one, Kobe will retire. However, even before he officially closes the book on his legendary career, it's clear we can finally shake loose the notion that the upcoming year depends on Bryant. In fact, there might not be a member of the team that's less important to the team's future than Kobe himself.
No one is going to come to the Lakers because he's here. The team, likely, will not be made into a championship contender on the legs and shoulder of a 36-year-old guard. The Lakers won't be demonstrably held back because he's taking minutes, either.
The brutal truth is that Kobe isn't the reason anymore. "The reason," whatever query it may be applied to, will be Okafor, Randle, Clarkson and others. They are the reasons why free agents will sign in LA. They will be the reasons the team looks like a championship contender down the road. They will be the reasons why any coach will want to deal with the scrutiny of being the Lakers' sideline general.
There's no doubt Kobe will do his best to be spectacular this year. If he's on the court, there won't be a second where he's not laying it all on the line, playing every game like it could be his last. I'll get a little extra enjoyment knowing that the pressure isn't on him anymore to bring home a title, that the Lakers fanbase at large can't feasibly expect that to happen from a man that's essentially broken himself time and time again for the sake of competition.
This draft is allowing us to let go of the notion that it's all on him. That we need him to succeed. To win.
This will make letting go of Kobe Bryant easier. Could we possibly ask for more?
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino