As the NBA conference finals begin, we have to still wonder about the leagues former champions. What does their future hold, is it a retiring Bryant, a traded Gasol, a completely different team? When a defending champion loses it’s a big deal around the league, and a big deal within the organization. When the defending champions are swept, well, that’s a huge problem and begs the question,what went wrong?
What went wrong? It’s really simple, people are over analyzing this too much. Pau Gasol just didn’t play. It’s almost as if he wasn’t there. Dirk Nowitzki ran all over him, he barely put up a fight. He missed easy shots every game, wasn’t aggresive enough on the boards or on defense and that dragged the Lakers down. When the man supposed to be giving the other team’s player a hard time doesn’t defend then there is going to be havoc. Their biggest strength is their duo of 7-footers on the front line, but in this series there was just one 7-footer in Andrew Bynum and one 7-footer playing like a scared child in Pau Gasol. Pau’s low production forced the other players on the team to carry his load, but trying to make up for 18 points and 10 rebounds is hard, and it was too hard for the Lakers. It wasn’t just Pau though, let’s not blame the whole Laker meltdown on one player. It was the effort. It was the hustle. The attitude. The defense, or lack there of. In game 4 of the series the Mavericks made 20, three pointers. How did they reach this milestone against such a tough defensive team? The perimeter defenders were lethargic, they didn’t rotate to the shooters, they didn’t even try to get a hand in the shooters face. Jason Terry did not have a hand in his face on any of his three pointers, the same with Peja.
This series is over though, the Lakers get to go on vacation early, and the Mavericks get to move on to the conference finals feeling proud and accomplished. Something has to change though. We already know Phil Jackson won’t be returning next season. Brian Shaw or Rick Adelman are the favorites to take over his position. Magic Johnson rumored that roster changes may have to be made if the Lakers want to be contenders next season. I agree, but what changes do they have to make? First off, they need a young, quick, athletic point guard. Derek Fisher is a veteran with lots of invaluable experience but he can’t keep up with the faster guards in the league like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, and Deron Williams. Steve Blake didn’t play up to expectations this season and although he has less years on his legs he still can’t compete with the faster guards. They won’t be getting any good draft picks any time soon so they better try to find a quick young point guard this summer. Then they have to wonder about Pau Gasol. He has proven to be a great competitor, an all-star, a top 10 power forward and most of all a champion, but he really let them down this postseason. Kobe only has 3-4 good years left in him and the Lakers may want to think about trading Gasol for an athletic, talented scorer to take the stage once Kobe is gone. Or maybe trade Gasol for another power forward, someone who is tougher and more dependable in big playoff series. As I mentioned before, Kobe only has 3-4 great years left in him so the Lakers may want to put a lot of their time into their younger players like Shannon Brown. He proved himself to be very productive off the bench, he is extremely athletic and he can definitely score the basketball. His game is still developing but I see a player who could do a solid job of filling in Kobe’s shoes. The last thing is that they need some gritty perimeter defenders. The Lakers, although they may play tough, are a pretty soft team. They need some tough perimeter defenders, players like Thabo Sefolosha or Tony Allen to keep the scorers under control.
After the Lakers disgraceful showing in the semi-finals, ways to improve are a must, if the Lakers want another ring.