Kobe Bryant told the media that in order to win a third straight NBA Championship, the L.A. Lakers would need to do something historic in the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
Well, they certainly repeated history, just not the way they had hoped. They were swept in the playoffs, just like 1998. The Lakers' catastrophic downfall was lead by Pau Gasol's no-show, Lamar Odom playing inconsistently, Andrew Bynum's whining about not getting the ball, Ron Artest's immature clothesline in Game 2 and suspension for Game 3 and Derek Fisher losing all of his confidence at exactly the wrong time.
I do not believe that the Dallas Mavericks were the better team, but they were certainly hotter and played better over the four games. Remember, this is the same Lakers squad that dominated almost every team out of the All-Star break.
So where did it go wrong?
I don't have an answer, and neither did any of the players after Sunday's Game 4 loss to Dallas.
So where do the Lakers go from here? Well, for starters Phil Jackson will without a doubt be leaving after this season. There is no questioning that. I believe that had Los Angeles not won the title last year, he wouldn't have been back this year.
Do they go with Brian Shaw, Phil Jackson's right-hand man? Or do they go after a big name, like Larry Brown, Byron Scott or Mike D'Antoni (if the Knicks fire him)? In my opinion, they will go with Brian Shaw. From the way it sounds, Kobe is very fond of Shaw and has talked about being Phil's successor before, and we all know Kobe gets his way.
As for the team, this is going to be a tough decision for Mitch Kupchick.
Do you keep the same squad and formula that has gotten you to the finals three out of the past four years? Do you re-evaluate the season and see who needs to stay and who needs to go? Or do you totally revamp the roster from head to toe, except for Kobe?
I believe that not a lot of changes will be made for the upcoming season, unless they can pull off a trade to get rid of a few key guys for another superstar. They won't have a lot of money to spend this offseason, but in 2012 they will have enough cash to get Bryant some more help. That is what I expect to happen.
As for the Lakers, it will be a new year in 2011-2012. I don't have high expectations for L.A., unless of course they go after a big name superstar. I don't see them as a No. 4 seed or a No. 5 seed. The Lakers will be older and it will take Brian Shaw some time to get used to coaching arguably the best basketball franchise in the NBA. I wouldn't be shocked if they didn't win 50 games next year but I would be shocked if they won fewer than 40.
But 2012, in my opinion, is where the changes will be made and the elite status of the Lakers will grow strong again. They will have enough cap space to sign a few key role players and a superstar, namely Dwight Howard. After what happened with Andrew Bynum and JJ Barea, I am not happy.
I would love to see him get out of Los Angeles as soon as possible, because that is not the Laker way. But that's besides the point. Bryant and Howard would work amazing together. If you don't believe me, you should remember the last Orlando center to make the move to L.A. Dwight Howard has quietly expressed his interests in leaving Orlando and it would shock me if the Lakers weren't high up on his list. If not Dwight Howard, I am sure the Lakers will keep Bynum and go after Chris Paul. But Dwight will be the No. 1 option in 2012, and I expect that to be the year the Lakers answer back.
Kobe's legacy is not tarnished because of this season. People have said that Michael Jordan would have never been in that situation. Did Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Luke Longley, Ron Harper, Horace Grant or Steve Kerr ever struggle that bad in the playoffs? Let's be honest. Kobe didn't play fantastic but he received no help from his teammates. He is still a top five all-time player in my opinion, and I would be pretty surprised if he didn't get a sixth ring.
The Lakers are taking a step down the ladder, but they will be back sooner than you think. Elite franchises never die. The Lakers will get Kobe Bryant some youthful help, and with that youthful help, it wouldn't phase me if Phil Jackson decides to come back to coach Kobe and another superstar.