First things first — congratulations to the Celtics and their fans. Boston was the better team in this series, the team that played with more focus and a more veteran mentality. They deserved the title, and I’m happy for Jeff and other Celtics fans I know.
Personally, I’m not that happy today. That was a hard way to lose, and that leads to a lot of frustration — for the fans, the players, the coaches. Everyone. There’s going to be a little venting that goes along with an effortless loss like that in game six of the Finals.
But as that frustration ebbs out we need to remember this season for the fun ride that it was. We started in October thinking we had a second-tier team in the West with an ugly soap opera swirling around it. The goal was to get out of the first round of the playoffs. Then seemingly out of nowhere Andrew Bynum emerged as a force in the paint, the Lakers were getting out and running, they were fun exciting and fresh. And winning. At the end of the 2007 the Lakers were flirting with the best record in basketball and we were all wondering if we really could compete with the best in the West when it mattered. Then Bynum went down, for what we thought would be a couple months. The team reverted to what we expected before the season, a streaky and frustrating .500 team.
Then came two trades, one good and one unfathomable. The first was getting Trevor Ariza, giving the Lakers a real perimeter defender to go with Kobe. Then there was the Pau Gasol theft. And it was a theft, the Lakers gave up a prospect and a pick and a contract for a seven-footer built for the triangle. Suddenly there was amazing energy around the team again and the offense was humming as it never has before. It was a joy to watch.
All of that led to a fantastic playoff run — an impressive sweep of the Nuggets, an hard-fought battle with the improving Jazz then a five-game win against the Spurs that made us feel like we really belonged, like we had really reached the elite.
In the Finals the Lakers ran into an aberration — a team that didn’t need to learn to win as a team (I think because its Big Three were veterans and there were a lot of veterans coming in off the bench). Most teams have to learn the hard way. Jordan’s Bulls lost to Detroit three times in the playoffs before they became a dynasty. The three-pete Lakers lost a lot in the playoffs plenty before they won with that unit. The list goes on and on.
And I think that’s what we ultimately take from this — the Lakers saw first-hand what it takes to win a title on Tuesday night. They saw the commitment needed on defense. They saw the will needed to get the rebounds and the loose balls. They saw the focus of a team that didn’t deviate from who it was or what it wanted to do. They saw a real hunger.
As Lakers fans we hope — we believe — that our team will come back next year with that fire. We know they will come back better with Bynum being the shot blocker and rebounder so needed in this series (and throughout the playoffs). We know they will come back with the best and most passionate player in the game. (Although, you have to wonder who will be first in the mainstream media to start suggesting Kobe wants out. We should start a pool.) We know we have a coach who knows how to make that step to a championship.
And we know we will come back with a core roster good enough to compete for a title and win one if they learned the lessons from this last series. There may be some roster tweaks, but the bottom line is the core of this team is a title contender and not much needs to be done to improve upon this year’s finish. The key for the players coming back having put in the work to take that next step. The hope is that this game six disaster drives them this summer, drives them into the gym and into the workouts.
It’s okay to be frustrated today. But know that tomorrow looks damn good. And next season it is going to be a lot of fun to be a Lakers fan.