Everyone knew going into this series that it was going to be challenging and would test the Lakers as a team. For the second year in a row, the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs in the second round after reaching the Finals in three consecutive years. Just like last year, the question that will be tossed around until the end of the Finals will be if management should blow up the team or simply make minor adjustments.
This season was like riding the roller coaster at Santa Monica Pier. Mike Brown was hired to replace the legendary Phil Jackson. The lockout during the summer, fall and early winter prevented the team to run a training camp to learn Brown’s new system. The Lakers lost Lamar Odom, which affected the bench and their length. Trade rumors off the court distracted players with their performance on the court.
Yet, through all that the Lakers ended up with the number three seed in the West. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City were rolling throughout the entire season, without being on that roller coaster.
The Lakers had a tough first round against the Denver Nuggets. At times, they looked like the champion team that the fans want and expect to see on the court. Other times, they were a step behind the Nuggets and were outplayed with little effort and aggression.
The Thunder swept the defending champions, the Dallas Mavericks, behind brilliant performances by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. By sweeping the Mavs in the first round, the Thunder were able to rest for nine days, waiting and preparing for their next opponents.
This series matched a veteran, half-court team (Lakers) against a young, transitional team (Thunder). We all know too well what happened in each of the five games during this series. The Lakers could do only so much and Kobe could only carry the team on his back so far. Give credit where credit’s due.
The Thunder were just too much for the Lakers in this series and for the entire league for the vast majority of the season. As, Kobe Bryant said after Game 5, the team’s roles were reversed from when they last faced each other in the post-season in 2009. Oklahoma City knows exactly who they are as a team and know how to work as a collective unit to get what they want. On the other hand, the Lakers were still making adjustments and tweaking the system in order to try to find an answer.
The Lakers were unable to close in the fourth quarters as they have been so effective at in the past. Meanwhile, Westbrook and Durant were able to defend, get out in transition and hit daggers to seal the games for them. While Kobe was still Kobe during this series and proved that his end is not as near as critics may think, Durant was able to close out games under pressure.
So, it seems the Lakers may have passed the torch to the Thunder as the favorites in the West and the league. However, never count out Kobe Bryant and the Lakers organization. They have been successful for so long for a reason. Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family know how to get the job done.
Whether this means blowing up the team or making smaller moves (all complying with the new CBA and the luxury tax system), the Lakers will be back. As Kobe said in the press conference after Game 5, “Come hell or high-water, we’re going to be back there again. It’s just something about the Lakers organization.” What names beside Kobe Bryant will be on the roster? We will have to wait for the off-season for that answer.