Playing Chess or Checkers?

The start of the 2016-2017 NBA season marked the first season in 20 years that All-Star, MVP, NBA Champion, and future Hall of Fame inductee Kobe Bryant would not be suiting up in a purple and gold uniform and taking the floor. Even now, well past the pre-season, and a few games into the regular season, this is still a hard pill to swallow for Laker Nation. On top of which, with players like Tim Duncan, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett all transitioning into life after Basketball (and Dirk Nowitzki not far behind), the basketball world is coming to the conclusion that an era of play has come to an end.

A new era

As the saying goes: "out with the old and in with the new" is in full effect this NBA season. The torch has been passed, and nowhere is this more evident than with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers -- through abysmal regular seasons over the course of the last few years -- have compiled some rather high draft picks, to establish a core of young talent, much like the Oklahoma City Thunder initially managed when they had the likes of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Reggie Jackson, and Serge Ibaka on their roster.

If anything, what happened with the Thunder should serve as a cautionary tale: with the quality of draft picks that they had, coupled with development in-house, all they have to show for it is a lone Russell Westbrook.

And, while Westbrook is likely to continue his MVP level of play this season, and is likely to see his own numbers rise to heights they never have before, individual stats will take center stage, while the overall team game will suffer.

Playing for the instant upgrade, or playing for the future?

Ultimately, what it comes down to is, do they want to go all-in with an established All-Star that can make an instant impact in this current season, but who only has maybe a solid 4-5 years of playing at an elite level left (barring injuries), or, do they want to bide their time for one, maybe two more abysmal seasons before things start to turn around?

The current roster has already shown flashes of brilliance in this young season, and they have shown the well of potential that's there to be tapped into. What it comes down to, is: are they playing for the now, or playing for the future?

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