NBA Playoffs 2011: Is This Last Hurrah for Kobe Bryant and LA Lakers?
It’s hard to think of just how bad can a team fall after being the top Western Conference playoff seed the last three years, but several factors are at play that put Lakers' near future dominance into question.
How can such a great Lakers team take a nosedive into mediocrity or how can anyone thing that the Lakers won’t be title contenders after this season.
It’s hard to imagine, but maybe this past Sunday's loss to the shorthanded New Orleans Hornets is already a sign of things to come. Yesterday's win notwithstanding.
First Game Is a Must Win
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Consider the following when the Los Angeles Lakers have dropped Game 1 of their following playoff series':
- Lost to the San Antonio Spurts in the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals
- Lost to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals
- Lost to the Detroit Piston in the 2004 NBA Finals
- Lost to the Phoenix Suns in the first-round of the 2006 playoffs
- Lost to the Phoenix Suns in the first-round of the 2007 playoffs
Also, unlike this year, the Lakers have won both of their home games—first two series games—during their last two playoff appearances, and each have lead to an NBA Finals win.
Age Is Nothing but a Number, but It's an Important Number
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It’s hard to grasp the fact that at just 32 years old, Kobe Bryant has played 14 full seasons and is currently wrapping up his fifteenth.
The man that Bryant is most often compared to, Michael Jordan, has played fifteen total years in his career. Also, take into consideration Jordan’s two retirements and that he had retired at the age of 39. The fact is that Bryant has already packed almost as much basketball time as Jordan did in his whole career.
Bryant has done all that before the age of 33.
To date, Bryant has played 1103 regular season and 199 playoff games. Michael Jordan has played 1073 regular season and 179 playoff games.
Jordan knee injury during his stint with the Wizards could be attributed to wear and tear. What do you think will happen to Bryant as he gets older?
Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones...
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The Kevin Garnett Syndrome or when an NBA player that came out of high-school accumulates as many games as a player with a couple of year of collegiate experience.
Without getting into scientific details, simply put, Bryant is getting old, and it's safe to say that he's on the downward swing of his career.
While Bryant is still one heck of a player, it is painfully clear that he has already lost a step or two.
Bryant has already had knee surgery during the 2006 offseason and has played a part of his MVP 2007-08 season with a severe finger injury.
The breakaway dunk over LeBron James during this years All-Star was something that, once upon a time, was expected night-in and night-out of Bryant, but right now it's more of a once in a while highlight.
Bryant is tough, but are these the signs of things to come?
The sands of time are slipping through Bryant's fingers.
Age Is Nothing but a Number
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Why is this the last hurrah for Bryant and the Lakers?
It is simple science—no one is getting any younger and especially not athletes.
As of this past January, Los Angeles is the second oldest team in the NBA with an average age of its players at 29.98.
Bryant isn't the only one who is getting up there in age.
The core of the Lakers are not far behind: both Lamar Odom and Ron Artest are 31, and Pau Gasol is 30 (will turn 31 on July 6).
The Lakers have a promising center in Andrew Bynum, who is just 23, but I doubt that he can carry an aging squad all by himself.
The Ballad of Phil & Kobe
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Only Phil Jackson can replace Phil Jackson.
The Lakers’ 2004-2005 season without Jackson ended with them missing the playoffs. This was the first time that Bryant missed the playoffs, and only the fifth time the Lakers missed the playoffs in franchise history.
"Most everybody believes I'm not going to fulfill this 'last stand' promise and I will come back and coach again but it really is [my last season]," Jackson said in an interview to Hannah Storm. “I really want to do this for myself.”
Jackson came back and led Los Angeles to two more championships.
What will happen if Jackson leaves again?
“Well, I've had a couple retirements in the process,” Jackson said to Storm. “In the 1998-99 season and also the 2004-05 sabbatical, which was quite enjoyable. And last year, I didn't have a contract at the end of the year so, there was those things that have gone on that have contributed to the fact that it's the last year, but, maybe. ... This year, there's no maybe.”
Will Bryant go back to his ball chucking ways if Jackson is gone? Who will control Bryant’s, at times, selfish playing style?
Without Jackson, even if the Lakers play well, they are not guaranteed to be title contenders.