There was a point in yesterday’s game that, to me, fully encapsulated what this Lakers’ season was about.
The 4th quarter had just started and Kobe Bryant was getting his normal rest, sitting on the bench with an anxious look on his face. Mike Brown was in an uncomfortable bind here, his team sitting on the precipice down by 6, seeing the Thunder with their big three on the floor, knowing that his key closer had faltered down the stretch in previous contests and need to get some rest, and needing his bigs and reserve wings to hold the line until he could insert Kobe back into the game. In less than 90 seconds, that hope’s expiration date came and went with OKC rattling off 8 straight points to turn what looked to be a close game into a blowout. A roster that was put together on the fly over the course of the season fell short. Kobe’s face showed the frustrated expression of a player that saw the reality of not being on the better team, of being on the team that would lose and be eliminated.
The Lakers simply didn’t have it this year. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to 29 a teams a year, so in this way the Lakers are not alone. The roller coaster ride of a new coach with his new schemes, a vetoed trade, the loss of leaders like Odom and Fisher, the initial boost from Sessions, the emergence of Bynum and everything in between gave this campaign so many twists and turns it was tough to keep up. The highs and lows were so great that even a team as used to living in the eye of the storm surely found it difficult to stay balanced.
Ultimately, I respect this team for what they achieved under the circumstances in which they achieved them. For the most part they played hard if not always smart. They won some big games and lost some head scratchers. They frustrated and wowed and the entire time I cheered for their success. Yesterday they lost to the better team and while I can understand and rationalize that, it doesn’t make it any easier. The Thunder deserve all the credit they’ll receive but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m struggling today. Losing is losing, after all.
Today, the Lakers organization must look in the mirror and be critical about what they see and about the choices they’ve made. They have a team that has some top level talent, some okay role players, unproven youth, and veterans at the bottom of their roster that likely needs some churning. For the second straight season they’ve come up short and while there are legitimate circumstances that played into those failures, those variables can’t be at the center of the analysis. They’re contributing factors, but not the reasons.
This front office must make decisions about the construction of this team and whether or not the model they’re using – two low post centric big men and an aging wing superstar – is the one that will get them where they want to go. There aren’t any easy answers here and that needs to be taken seriously. Fans will over-react and push hard for change but, like any other choice that’s made in life, it better be the right one or you’ll end up running in place, like on a treadmill. The right decisions are the ones that will get this team where it needs to go and those won’t be made today. The wounds are still a bit too deep for sorting out those issues.
And beyond the pain of defeat, there are real variables that must be accounted for. The new CBA limits what they an spend in free agency. The Lakers will pay out a hefty dollar amount in revenue sharing. There will be luxury tax payments to dole out as well, with the amount they pay going up exponentially in two seasons should payroll stay above the tax line. This makes it a priority to think long term while living with the reality that short term success is also a major goal. I mean, Kobe Bryant isn’t getting any younger.
Of course there will be plenty of time to dissect what may come next, what should come next, and what actually does. We’ll be doing that here at this site while also talking draft, summer league, and everything else Lakers up until the start of the season and beyond. Sadly, we’ll be doing that for a bit longer than we’d hoped, with the Lakers again falling short of their ultimate goal.