The Lakers left the playoffs yesterday in a pitiful and embarrassing fashion, losing by 36 points in the final game of a decisive sweep.The only fight they put up was in the fourth quarter – after the game was long decided – when both Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum were ejected for ridiculous cheap shot fouls on the Mavericks.
Their latest mini-dynasty (three straight finals and back-to-back championships) is over. So what happens now for the Lakers?
Phil Jackson won’t be back. Pau Gasol isn’t happy. Derek Fisher and Ron Artest have seen better days. Andrew Bynum is the future of the Lakers’ front line, but doesn’t appear mature (after last night’s cheap shot) or interested enough to lead the franchise.
What about Kobe? Well, he turns just 33 years old this summer, but don’t forget that Bryant has been in the league since he was 18. He’s played 48,000 NBA minutes, not counting pre-season, All-Star games, practices, Olympics, and Nike commercials.
He’s still got talent, but his body can no longer with stand the grind of a long season.Judging by last year’s Game 7 and this year’s pedestrian effort, his body may not many (or any) superhero performances left in it.
The window on his position as the one of the top guns in the game is slowly closing, and don’t forget — there’s a good chance he could lose part of all of his next season, closing that gap forever.
There are talks now of a trade for Dwight Howard or Chris Paul. But there’s little evidence that Howard would make any difference. He doesn’t have any titles himself, and L.A. would have to give up a significant package of talent to get him. Paul would help, but can Kobe really share the backcourt (and the ball) with such a dynamic point guard? One who is probably more valuable than he is at this point?
A shake up has to happen now and maybe a year off would actually do the franchise some good. Los Angeles has too much money and history to ever not be a factor in the NBA.
Unfortunately for Kobe, by the time they sort things out and the NBA gets back to business, he may too old to lead them. And Kobe Bryant has never been the type of guy willing to take back seat to teammates in order to win a championship.
Maybe he’ll come around on that last point, but we’re not holding our breath.