The Los Angeles Lakers season came to an earlier than expected end on Sunday night, and reality finally started to settle in.
Or did it?
After the Lakers were swept by the Dallas Mavericks, the team and their fans knew that changes were about to occur. Phil Jackson would be retiring and major roster moves would be made to ensure this team played to its full potential while Kobe Bryant was still effective.
Yes, that reality settled in: A new era is about to begin with a new coach and probably some new faces. However, it is the potential additions to the team that makes it obvious that the Lakers and their fans have failed to fully come to grips with reality.
The general consensus is that the Lakers will seek to put together a package for the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard or the New Orleans Hornets' Chris Paul. And while Los Angeles has the assets to pull off such deals, their is one lingering question that seems to be going overlooked: Will Paul or Howard even agree to sign an extension with the Lakers?
It may seem like a stupid question. Who wouldn't want to play in Los Angeles? The city is a center-stage showcase for talent, yet the media is kinder than other big markets such as New York and Boston.
Los Angeles seems like a promising city to play for, and it is, but for how much longer?
If Howard and Paul decide to leave their respective teams, it is going to be because neither feels they can compete for a championship there anytime soon, in which case joining Kobe Bryant and the Lakers would be a mistake.
If Paul or Howard join the Lakers, Los Angeles will be legitimate championship contenders. Either player would compliment Bryant well. And as we know, Kobe is still Kobe.
As harsh as it sounds, Bryant is the reason neither Paul nor Howard will join the Lakers. He is almost 33 and while he is still a terrific player, he is on the downside of his career.
The fact of the matter is that Kobe will not be Kobe for that much longer.
Now, I am not belittling Bryant's ability. He is one of the greatest to ever play the game, hands down. He had a terrific season averaging 25.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, but we did see glimpses of age catching up with him.
Bryant is turning 33 in August and sometime in the near future, he is not going to be able to give the Lakers the normal 35 minutes a game.
And you better believe that Howard and Paul have this under consideration. Los Angeles may be on their list of preferred destinations, but as we head into next season, that may very well change.
Do you see Kobe Bryant's age as a potential roadblock in the Lakers pursuit of Dwight Howard and Chris Paul?
To obtain Howard or Paul, the Lakers would likely have to give up some combination of Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, leaving them with less depth. To be fair, though, a combination of Bryant and either Howard or Paul along with the remaining Lakers supporting cast could be a championship contender, and both Paul and Howard know this.
However, they also know that this would not be the case for years to come.
Both players have expressed frustration that they lack that go-to accomplice on their team to help shoulder the burden of winning. So, why would they want to end up on a team that will put them in the same situation when Bryant retires or his game drops off completely in the next few years?
There is a good chance neither one will want to put themselves in that predicament.
No, there is no guarantee as to how much greatness Bryant has left in him. It could be four more years or it could be less than two.
With their futures on the line, though, Paul and Howard are not going to want to take such a risk, especially when there are young stars in New York and New Jersey who are prime candidates to team up with.
Los Angeles can entertain the idea of acquiring either of these two stars, but while they may have the assets to bring said idea to fruition, they may no longer have the lure to do so.
The city is spectacular, the media is player-friendly and the Lakers are the center-stage act.
But for how much longer?
What if Bryant's production drops drastically next season as he adjusts to a new system amid more speculation than he is used to?
What if his age starts to show even more?
What if Kobe is no longer Kobe?
This will all factor in to Howard and Paul's decision-making process. Los Angeles may turn out to be just too much of a risk for either player.
Yes, it may be series of "what ifs" that we are focusing on, but they are possibilities that are bound to become a reality.
A reality that Howard and Paul are fully aware of.
And a reality that the Lakers and their fans are not yet ready to accept.