Phil Jackson has retired. Lamar Odom has been traded. But Kobe Bryant is still plying his trade for the Lakers and that's reason enough not to count them out this season.
A change may do Kobe Bryant and the Lakers good
Kobe Bryant begins the second half of his second decade with the Los Angeles Lakers in unfamiliar surroundings, and that is not just his new living arrangements, given his impending divorce.
For starters, the Lakers, usually the most glamorous club in the league, are not even the most compelling team in Los Angeles.
Their Staples Center co-tenants, the Clippers, landed Chris Paul after the Lakers' own deal for the superstar point guard was rejected by the league, putting the league's most notoriously ineffectual franchise under the NBA spotlight while the Lakers regroup.
Bryant realises that the process could be more complicated than anybody expected.
The Lakers are still learning the systems of the new coach, Mike Brown, who replaced the 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson.
The Lakers also must figure out how to thrive without Lamar Odom, the top reserve, off-loaded to the Dallas Mavericks after he expressed disappointment at being a part of the voided trade for Paul.
So while Paul and Blake Griffin scheme ways to take over the league, Bryant is hoping the Lakers have enough remaining talent and veteran savvy just to contend again.
Bryant is not complaining about the Lakers' plight.
Not yet, anyway.
"I think they've proven here that they can build a team that can compete for championships, and I'm sure they're going to do that now," he said. "I don't expect this to be a situation like it was in 2005 when [the organisation said], 'You know what? We're just going to cut payroll, we're going to cut everything, not contend for a championship'.
"I don't expect that to be the case. I expect them to try to be aggressive and make moves to build a championship team, and if that's the case, I'll stand out of the way and let them do what they do."
Bryant referred to 2005 because it marked the start of the least successful two-year period of his 15 seasons with the Lakers and eventually led Bryant to demand a trade in May 2007.
The Lakers instead acquired the Spaniard, Pau Gasol, setting the club on course for three straight NBA finals, including their 15th and 16th championships, leaving them only one behind Boston.
"The one time I got really upset is because I came to the realisation that they were just cutting back," Bryant said. "They were having me run around, score 40 points a night and generate revenue, and not pay anybody. If that's the direction they want to go in, then let me go.
"I don't think that's the case. You can see they're trying to make moves … so I'll just stand out of their way and let them do it."
The Lakers head into their Sunday opener against Chicago Bulls with Gasol in the line-up and fellow trade bait Andrew Bynum on the roster, though not in uniform, while he serves a season-opening five-game suspension.
Brown stepped into chaos just when he hoped to be teaching the Lakers, with Gasol missing his first practice and Odom never showing up after the long-time Cleveland coach spent the off-season planning for a different roster.
Brown has tried to tailor his schemes to the Lakers' strengths, incorporating aspects of Jackson's triangle offence and his own fierce defensive philosophy.
Brown already has decided he will keep the veteran Derek Fisher in the starting point guard spot while bumping Metta World Peace - the former Ron Artest - to the bench, where he will be expected to lead the Lakers' second unit.
"We're going to try to emphasise what these players do well, and what will help them to get in position to be successful," Brown said. "I'm not in here trying to change everything. This is a good team that's won a lot of games over the last several years. We just want to enhance that and bring out their best."
Matt Barnes is likely to be the Lakers' new starting small forward, and Gasol will carry the early-season weight in the low post while Bynum sits.
Although the Lakers' depth was eroded by Odom's departure and the move of reserve Shannon Brown to Phoenix, the Lakers have not really replaced them, signing only the journeymen, Josh McRoberts and Jason Kapono.
It adds up to the makings of a strange season for the Lakers, but they are not ready to rule out a run at a 17th championship.
"It's going to be different, but we still have a lot of talent," Gasol said.
"We can still have a great season."
But already it may have hit a bump in the road as Bryant may be out of the opener with a torn ligament in his right wrist, suffered when he was sent crashing to the floor by DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers centre, and landed on the wrist. He came up holding it and grimaced, but stayed in the game for another three minutes before going to the bench for a long period and having it treated.
"I knew he landed on his wrist, but I was not aware that he was in significant pain," said Brown, who added that the medical staff will have to clear Bryant and that "as soon as I figure it out, I will let [the media] know. He did not tell me he was in pain, nor did our trainer tell me he was in pain.
"Come Sunday, we'll see how it is."