After making three straight appearances in the NBA Finals and winning back-to-back NBA Titles at their last two times at the big dance; the Los Angeles Lakers have been knocked out of the Post Season in the Association in the second round Monday night for the second year in a row. Last season, when the eventual Association Champions the Dallas Mavericks swept them in the teams match-up, it was a jolt to the entire NBA; as Los Angeles was hoping to make the Finals for the fourth straight season and to eventually lock up their fourth straight Title.
It was a far different situation for the Lakers this year as they barely survived a first round series against the Denver Nuggets that Los Angeles would win in seven games after taking a 3-1 lead in the match-up. A young, athletic and well-rested Oklahoma City Thunder squad would be their opponents in the second round and a weary Lakers team were not able to stand up to them, losing the series in five games as the Thunder wrapped up the series with a 106-90 drubbing of their opponents.
The speculation that surrounds the team in light of the squad once again being ousted in the second round; is not whether the team will make changes to its roster in the off-season; the real question is just how extensive those changes will be. The one “Untouchable” on the club, Lakers All-Star guard Kobe Bryant, is not happy with the current state of affairs on his team as he demonstrated when he threw teammate Pau Gasol under the bus with his statements about the forward’s poor performance in game four of the series.
Despite former Lakers great Magic Johnson’s deepest wishes; Mike Brown will be back in the bench as head coach for the team come October. Brown did an admirable job following a legend as he assumed the reins from former coach Phil Jackson and took a team in transition to a record of 41-25 in the abridged season, winning the Pacific Division Title and locking up the third seed in the Western Conference Playoff chase.
The team attempted to radically alter the roster prior to the start of this season; as they had a three-way deal in place with the New Orleans Hornets and the Houston Rockets that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers and Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol to the Rockets. The Association who were operating the Hornets, vetoed the deal and later approved a trade that sent CP-3 to the team’s co-tenant the Clippers.
The failed trade brought collateral-damage to the squad, as Odom’s ego was bruised and he demanded to be sent elsewhere; he was shipped to the Dallas Mavericks for a future NBA Draft pick. Things did not work out for the winner of the 2011 NBA Sixth Man Of The Year Award with the Mavericks, being told to stay away from the team after getting into a verbal squabble with Dallas Team Owner Mark Cuban late in the year.
Los Angeles did make a mid-season move that seemed to help the team for a stretch as they picked up starting point guard Ramon Sessions from the Cleveland Cavaliers and then traded former starter Derek Fisher to the Rockets in a separate deal. Fisher never played for Houston and would sign with the Thunder ironically as a Free Agent. Although he and Bryant played well together when he first came to Los Angeles; Bryant seemed to lose trust in him down the stretch of the regular season as well as in the Post Season.
Center Andrew Bynum had his best campaign in his career in the Association as he remained healthy for the most part and was named by the fans as a starter in this season’s NBA All-Star game. With Dwight Howard almost assuredly signing a long-term deal with the Orlando Magic after they fired coach Stan Van Gundy on Monday; the Lakers will most likely stick with the big man whom Bryant told reporters earlier this season reminded him of himself when he was a young player. The big man will have to work on maturity issues however, if he really wants to become one of the truly elite centers in the game.
His mates in the front-court however may have found that they have played their final games in a Lakers uniform on Monday. Although Bryant told members of the media that Metta World Peace was the only player on his squad that he trusted when he returned from a seven game suspension; General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Brown may believe it is time to part company with the veteran. Although Gasol racked up a double-double with 14 points and 16 boards in the team’s final game on Monday; that may be not enough to save him after the “Black Mamba’s” tirade following game four.
Bryant showed his distrust of his teammates on Monday as he shot 33 times during the contest; just two shots less than the other four starters on the team. When the veteran guard feels he has to score 42 points in a game for his club to remain in the game; it is a sign that he feels he has very little support from the rest of his roster.
If Los Angeles decides to jettison Gasol, Sessions and World Peace this off-season, it will leave them with huge voids at the point guard slot as well as at both forward positions. They need to get more athletic to be able get back to the elite status they had in the Association through the 2009-2010 campaign. If they can replace the three mentioned above with some young, athletic and talented players; they could be back near or at the top of the Association soon.