The Los Angeles Lakers remain the top threat in the West, with great expectations to win the Western Conference and most likely to three-peat by winning the 2011 Finals. However, it is the talk around the NBA of who is the team that could prevent this from happening in the West this playoff season that is intriguing. It is not the number one seed in the West, the San Antonio Spurs, but rather the young guns from the newest NBA host city, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The third youngest team in the NBA is led by scoring title winner, Kevin Durant, and one of the most improved players in the NBA this season, Russell Westbrook. What is most exciting about the Thunder is the fact that they are playing with such success at such a young age. As long as the majority of the team remains intact, they will only get better. The Thunder consists of a solid coaching staff, skilled leaders, a devoted fan base, and young players who are willing and eager to learn.
With the end of this season marking the end of the Phil Jackson era, change is inevitable. But remember, change can be a good thing. The Lakers will have a young and prepared new head coach with Brian Shaw. The team will still be built around the extreme abilities of the brilliant Kobe Bryant. Even though his minutes will be decreased, the team will still be rooted by the consistent leadership of Derek Fisher. Pau Gasol will still be Robin to Kobe’s Batman. But with this off-season being one of transition, the Lakers should think about acquiring and developing some of their own young guns.
The process of building Andrew Bynum is something the Lakers should try to replicate. Bynum came into the league at the age of 17 and not “NBA ready”. With the commitment of the organization and the mentoring and coaching of NBA and Lakers legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bynum is now considered one of the best big men in the NBA. Bynum’s contribution to the Lakers is a key to their success. The Lakers need to be proactive in developing future young players. A team that falls under the reactive role in being “too old” is the San Antonio Spurs. As stated before, the Spurs aren’t the team that is seen as the best or the frontrunners in the NBA despite earning the best record in the NBA. The Lakers are not at the stage of being “too old” that the Spurs are in…yet.
The Lakers should look to acquire and develop future players that either come from picks in the NBA draft or through trades. Another great avenue for acquiring young talent these days is through the NBA’s D-League. After all, the D-League serves as the “minors” for the NBA and their teams. These players could join Shannon Brown, Steve Blake, and Matt Barnes off the bench, led by this year’s 6th Man of the Year, Lamar Odom. I personally hope the Lakers commit to developing Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter. The Lakers have the right coaches, mentors, and leaders to work with this young talent. The combination of this could see endless possibilities for the Lakers and their future success.