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Lakers will debate overhaul after playoff exit
It might have been the tandem’s last few minutes together with a franchise that has little patience when even great players stop bringing home rings.
The Lakers were eliminated in the second round for the second straight year Monday night with a five-game loss to the Thunder. Although the Lakers had a solid season despite getting no real training camp to make the enormous switch from coaches Phil Jackson to Mike Brown, they weren’t as good as the NBA’s best.
That likely means changes for a franchise and a fan base that considers seasons ending before June to be abject failures.
“I’m really not used to it, so it’s pretty odd for me,” Bryant said of another early-by-Lakers-standards exit. “I’m not the most patient of people, and the organization is not extremely patient either. We want to win and win now, so I’m sure we’ll figure it out. We always have. I’m sure we will again.”
In Lakerland, it’s easy to forget that the large majority of NBA franchises would be quite pleased by a 41-25 regular season, yet another Pacific Division title and a decent performance against the Thunder, clearly a top-four team. Many teams would be excited to retool a roster topped by Bryant, four-time All-Star big man Gasol, and emerging All-Star center Andrew Bynum, who frequently dominated during his best pro season.
But no franchise has the incredibly high standards of Bryant and the 16-time champion Lakers, who don’t even acknowledge division titles that would be a significant achievement for other teams. A second-round playoff loss to a better team caused panic and widespread soul-searching Tuesday.
While general manager Mitch Kupchak contemplates his moves, most of the armchair GMs already agreed on Job No. 1: From the hours after the Lakers‘ final loss well into Tuesday morning, the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in Los Angeles was “(hash)IdTradeGasolFor.”
Gasol endured his toughest season since arriving in Los Angeles in early 2008, dealing with uncertainty and disappointment after the NBA rejected a trade that would have exiled him to Houston last December for Chris Paul. The genial Spanish 7-footer averaged a career-low 17.4 points while failing to find a consistent role in new coach Mike Brown’s offense before struggling mightily in the playoffs.
Gasol, who will make more than $38 million over the next two seasons, handled the scuttled trade with his usual grace, but his fans and teammates weren’t always so generous. Bryant called Bynum the Lakers‘ second scoring option during the season, but called out Gasol for not scoring more in the postseason, ripping into Gasol after Game 4 last Saturday.
“This team always has a huge desire and goal to win the championship, and when you fall short, it’s frustrating,” Gasol said. “It has been a crazy year and a lot to deal with. … Unfortunately, we had tough losses and things didn’t really go our way for the most part. You just have to regroup and digest this loss and this season, and learn from it and move on.”
The 24-year-old Bynum was outstanding for most of his seventh NBA season, averaging 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.93 blocked shots while staying healthy. But just when most Lakers fans are ready for Bynum to sign a maximum contract extension, he provided one more reminder of his questionable maturity and leadership potential when he didn’t shake hands with the Thunder after managing just 10 points and four rebounds in Game 5.
Bynum has made numerous immature mistakes over the past year, which began with rampant rumors of his own departure for Orlando in various trades for Dwight Howard.
“Change has never bothered me. I’ll play anywhere,” Bynum said. “I’ll come back a better player.”
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
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