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Ding Dong, the Lakers are Dead (at least for this year)

Posted on May 08, 2011 by Dean Hybl

The dismal performance by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2011 NBA playoffs was a surprise to everyone.

Even when the two-time defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers lost the first two games of their Western Conference playoff series at home to the perennial underachieving Dallas Mavericks, most of the NBA “experts” still expected Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to eventually flip a switch and return to their dominating ways.

That prediction was officially proved wrong on Sunday afternoon as the Mavericks whipped the Lakers 122-86 to complete an improbable four-game sweep of the former champions.

While history and past success are as celebrated in the NBA as in any other major professional sport, there comes a time when banners and history are no longer enough.

Though still a very talented team with a Hall of Fame coach and all-time great superstar, the Lakers are starting to show signs of age and the difficulty of staying motivated at the highest level.

There was a lot of talk this season about how they could just “flip the switch” when it was time to play their best, but the reality is that in a league where the difference in overall team talent is rather minimal, it isn’t all that easy to just suddenly jump from average to awesome.

The question now facing the Lakers is whether they can rebound next year with the same cast of characters or if it will take a significant overhaul for the Lakers to return to prominence.

Of the top 10 players on the roster, only 25-year-old reserve Shannon Brown and 23-year-old starting center Andrew Bynum are under the age of 30.

At 32-years-old, Kobe Bryant proved that he is still among the elite players in the league with an average of 25.3 points per game, but his scoring average has now declined for five straight years and after 15 NBA seasons it is likely that trend will continue in coming seasons.

Will this really be the final exit for Phil Jackson?

Paul Gasol (30-years old) had another outstanding regular season for the Lakers, but he was much more inconsistent in the playoffs. The same could be said for 31-year-old Lamar Odom.

When on the court, Bynum has been an x-factor player for the Lakers, but he is often injured and his strained relationship with Bryant took another hit during the playoffs. Given that Kobe isn’t going anywhere, it is very likely that Bynum has played his final game in a Lakers uniform.

Both Ron Artest and Derek Fisher were solid role players for the Lakers during their championship runs, but neither played at a consistently high level in 2011 and that reflected into the playoffs.

Using past history as a guide, many believe it is inevitable that superstar center Dwight Howard will soon be heading west to team with Bryant on another Laker dynasty. He has shown increased frustration with Orlando and has only one year left before he can become a free agent, so it probably wouldn’t be a good bet to think he will not soon follow in the footsteps of Wilt Chamberlin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. All of whom established their dominance for another franchise, but secured their legacies while helping lead the Lakers to championships.

An interesting question is exactly who will be directing the team from the bench in future seasons. Every indication is that Phil Jackson will rise off into the sunset with his 11 championships. However, Jackson is a very proud person and you have to wonder if getting swept in his final playoff series is really how he wants to exit the NBA.

So the Lakers are done for 2011, but with 10 NBA titles and 16 appearances in the Finals since 1980 you can guarantee that the Lakers will simply reload and be ready for another run next season.

The faces may change, but the results pretty much stay the same.

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