So I’m assuming the Lakers are going to lose game 4. If they somehow bounce back with their past aggression, composure, and diligence, and somehow pull out the series in 7, then this article is a total waste.
But to me, reality had sunk in after Game 1’s loss to the Hornets in the first round. My team just doesn’t have the emotional and physical wherewithal required to earn a third straight NBA title; I’m just surprised they’re losing against the Mavericks and not the Miami Heat.
For Lakers’ fans, the question now is raised: how will Kobe earn his sixth and potentially seventh rings? The story can’t just end here. He can’t just finish with five. History needs to test him against Jordan by at least allowing him to compete in one more NBA Finals against Lebron and his cute friends. Kobe’s unyielding drive that has captured the imaginations of his fans cannot simply be curtailed early in a sweep against the Mavs.
Perhaps the inner-team bickering that plagued the Lakers in 2004 leading to the Lakers’ lack of collective effort against the Detroit Pistons will forever haunt his legacy. On the other hand, maybe fans will purely recognize his 5 championships in this era as something magical and quit with the Jordan comparisons altogether. Unfortunately, as Kobe knows all too well, his contributions to basketball will always be criticized unless he at least matches Jordan.
But with Phil Jackson leaving, Fisher’s legs being completely drained, and Pau Gasol reverting back to his 2008 Finals’ ways, Kobe is facing the harsh realities for an aging superstar in a league where talent is becoming more and more centralized among a few powerhouses. The final 3-4 years of career may consist of more western conference semifinal exits and frustration.
This is a totally different feeling for Lakers’ fans. When Shaq, Malone, Payton, and Fox had their exodus in the mid-2000s, we knew we had no chance for a championship in the following years. But we had the immense, young talent of Kobe Bryant. We had no legitimate athletes surrounding him except Lamar Odom, but we had Kobe in his mid-20s, and for some reason, we just believed that his passion would bring LA back to glory.
Now the Lakers’ have a much bleaker outlook towards the future. Will Gasol regain his championship form? Can Steve Blake become a starting PG that can lead a team down the stretch of big playoff games? Most importantly, who will coach the Lakers and what kind of offense will they run?
I still believe Jerry Buss and Mitch Kupchack have a short list of well-known names for the next Lakers’ coach. I believe that list includes Byron Scott and Larry Brown but does not include Brian Shaw. Shaw’s seat was once used by Kurt Rambins; the Lakers often have an assistant coach that is “next-in-line,” but I doubt that assistant seat is ever taken seriously for the next Head Coach position in LA.
Additionally, with the culture of the NBA transforming and the Heat, Knicks, and Bulls becoming superpowers (after talking to FromMontanaToCrabtree, I am convinced Andre Iguodola will somehow make a move to Chicago), I believe the Lakers will have to trade either Bynum or Gasol for Howard. But no, I don’t think that guarantees the Lakers anything. Older Kobe/Howard/Pau vs. James/Wade/Bosh, Paul/Melo/Amare, or Rose/Boozer/Iguodala could be anyone’s game.
In summation, the last few years of Kobe Bryant’s career may be in jeopardy. He’s so close to achieving what all Lakers’ fans have believed is his destiny. But he will now have to once again alter his game to adjust for potentially a completely different offense as well as a different fourth quarter game plan (let’s face it, Kobe just doesn’t have the energy to close out every major game by himself from here on out).
But then again, adaption and perseverance are two of the most important qualities for a champion. Kobe’s climb back to the top may look insurmountable currently, but he overcame several difficult obstacles to rediscover glory following 2004 as well. Perhaps we will find one more turn in his story, and through these final chapters, we will finally achieve the dreams that his ambitions have instilled within us.