by Marcel Mutoni @ marcel_mutoni

To no one’s great shock, Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak insists that despite Dwight Howard’s departure and the monster free agent class next summer (and 2015), the team will do its best to be as competitive as possible in 2013-’14.

Kupchak admits he’s disappointed with Howard’s decision to bolt for Houston, but not all that surprised.

Per the LA Times:

How disappointed was he to lose Howard in free agency to the “little town” of Houston, as Shaquille O’Neal derisively called it? “It wasn’t a surprise. I had a feeling that Houston was a frontrunner, and whenever a player is an unrestricted free agent, anything can happen,” Kupchak said. “Clearly, we wanted to keep him here in Los Angeles, and I felt we did everything we could do within reason to show we did want to keep him here. Until the end, I kept up hope. I think we were as persistent as we could be within reason. I wasn’t shocked but I was disappointed.”

With Kobe Bryant coming back at an unknown date from a torn Achilles’ tendon, is it time to punt away next season and play for a high draft pick in 2014? “You know that’s not our plan. Our plan was to bring back Dwight Howard and that would have sky-rocketed our payroll,” Kupchak said. “That’s never a plan here with our fan base, to throw in the towel before the season begins. We always try to win, and that’s what we’re going to do this year.”

Unlike Jim Buss, Kupchak won’t make any predictions about Kobe Bryant’s return to the court, though the GM says he’s optimistic:

“Obviously, we’re all hopeful and we all know Kobe. When you guess on Kobe, he always tries to prove you wrong,” Kupchak said. “The reality is he’s doing what he should be doing. He’s making progress probably weekly. Does that mean five months is possible or it’s really going to be eight or nine or 10? We just don’t know. When he gets back in September, we’ll take another look at him, but he hasn’t been on a basketball court. It’s really premature to try to predict other than try to be optimistic that he’ll be ready for opening night or the 15th of November or the 1st of December or the 15th of December.”

Despite having added some athleticism on the cheap this summer, and a potentially happier locker room next season, the Lakers have plenty of challenges ahead. It remains to be seen just how healthy and effective Steve Nash and Pau Gasol will be, and the team’s defense remains a major concern.

The organization may not be going into tank-mode, but Lakers fans would be wise to keep an eye on the future beyond next season.