The Los Angeles Lakers did not make a deal before the 2011 NBA Trade Deadline, much to the chagrin of Lakers fans.
The Lakers entered the All-Star break riding a three-game skid that included a lost to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers. Many questioned whether or not they would deal the visibly aging Ron Artest. The Lakers—who have won two straight titles—are looking older by the day.
Kobe Bryant has been in the league for 14 long seasons, many of which had long playoff runs at the end. Derek Fisher is 36 years old and both Lamar Odom and Ron Artest have been in the NBA for 11 years.
No matter who you look at, they have a lot of miles on their legs.
Regardless, the Lakers have come storming out of the break, winning their first three games in impressive fashion. Just like the beginning of the season, they are scoring upwards of 100 points again and looking more energetic on the defensive end.
Will this last or will the Lakers start to slow again?
Here are 10 predictions for the rest of the Lakers' season and the playoffs.
The Lakers dropped a game to Dallas on Jan. 19. The Dallas Mavericks are currently two games ahead of the Lakers in the Western Conference standings.
Those two games will be made up by the purple and gold when they beat Dallas in both of their remaining match-ups of the season. Lamar Odom will play a pivotal role as a mismatch in both games.
The Mavs will hit a skid before the season concludes and the Lakers will rise to the second seed in the West.
As I said, Derek Fisher isn't getting any younger. The veteran point guard has made so many big shots for the Lakers in the playoffs. This includes a long three-pointer late in the fourth quarter of their Game 7 win over the Boston Celtics.
This year, Fisher is averaging 27 minutes per contest and that number has been on the rise since the departure of Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar. The Lakers will truly miss these guys come playoff time because Steve Blake is not a proven player in the clutch.
Fisher will split minutes with Blake, but see the majority of the court in crunch time.
In today's NBA, a big game for Pau and Kobe won't necessarily translate to a win. The Lakers will need a strong showing from their third scorer.
Odom needs to exploit his rare combination of speed and size to create scoring opportunities. He also needs to attack the boards and make teams pay on the offensive glass.
The Lakers' performance in the playoff hinges on the play of their athletic small forward.
With 22 games left in the regular season, Gasol will return to his early-season form which saw him earning some attention as an MVP candidate.
Pau's plethora of offensive skills will shine late in the season, taking some of the pressure of Kobe. Kobe will see this happening and feed Gasol and save some of his magic for the playoffs.
If Pau is aggressive with the ball, it will bode well for the Lakers in the playoffs.
Ron Artest will have a night where he proves he's not washed up and can still play the game at a very high level.
The next night he will go 1-for-9 and get toasted by the team's other player. Basically, Artest will have trouble finding anything that resembles consistency. His play will depend on the night, and back-to-back games will be a death sentence for the veteran.
Artest will win and lose some games for the Lakers, but in the end, he'll cost them more than he'll offer.
It seems that every year provides a new injury to Andrew Bynum. Like many big men in the NBA, a day without a nagging injury is hard to come by.
When he's healthy, Bynum has shown tons of improvement and outright ability. He is a rarity as a pure center in the NBA and can help the Lakers when both of his knees are functional. Bynum can be a rebounding machine if he puts his mind to it.
With the combination of mind and body, Bynum has the potential to power the Lakers to their sixth title of the new century.
No matter how effective Pau and company are in the regular season, Kobe will take over when the calendar reads playoffs.
This postseason may be Kobe's last as a dominant one-on-one scorer in the league and he'll put his skills to use. With extra attention being paid to his hot teammates, he'll lavish the opportunity for one defender. Kobe will rarely use the pass button when the games on the line.
If Kobe gets hot, the Lakers can go very far.
The Memphis Grizzlies will surpass the Denver Nuggets for the seventh seed in the West and face the Lakers in the first round.
With Pau outplaying his brother Marc Gasol and Andrew Bynum containing Zach Randolph, the Lakers will beat the Grizzlies with relative ease. One bad game will keep the Lakers from a sweep, as Artest will hoist to many bad shots for the Lakers to overcome.
In the other four games, Kobe will average over 30 points and Laker optimism will be soaring going into the Western Conference semifinals.
Although the Lakers have struggled mightily with the Spurs all season, it will be the Thunder that end their quest for a three-peat.
Russell Westbrook is too quick for Fisher, which will force Bryant to guard him for significant minutes. Kobe will not have as much energy to expend on offense and his jump shot will regularly fall short.
Artest contained Kevin Durant in last season's six-game triumph over the Thunder. This season, Durant will torch Artest. Durant will have at least two 40-point outputs in the series.
With the additional size of Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed, the Thunder won't be as outmatched in the post and that will prove to be the difference.
The Lakers age shows the most when they play the Thunder. This season, young will defeat old.
After their disappointing display in the playoffs, the Lakers will be looking to the future in the off-season. The Lakers will add someone distinct in the summer that will be the first sign of a new age in Los Angeles.
Dwight Howard could be following an eerily similar path to Shaquille O'Neal by joining the Lakers after not being able to break through in Orlando. Howard is rumored to have interest in LA and Kobe wouldn't shy away from playing with another elite big man.
If it's not Howard, it will be an elite point guard that joins the Lakers.
Whoever it is, it will be the first sign of Kobe passing the torch to a worthy predecessor. If the Lakers don't make a big move this off-season, the 2012 playoffs will provide a similar result.