The Los Angeles Lakers played their final game of the season Sunday night in a 122-86 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, capping a 4-0 sweep and elimination from the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
While this loss did not come as a surprise given how the Lakers played throughout the series, it did leave many questions heading into the postseason, most notably surrounding Kobe Bryant.
Entering the offseason, Bryant is 32 years old and has spent the last 15 years in Los Angeles as a Laker.
You can compare Bryant to a fine bottle of wine, that can only get better with age, but after you open the bottle, it can get flat pretty quickly.
The latter part of that analogy also applies to Bryant.
It could be argued that he hit his peak in the 2007-08 season. Since then, his averages have steadily dropped, and the wear on his body has become more noticeable.
During the three-peat in the early 2000's, Bryant had assistance from several other players, such as Derek Fisher and Shaquille O'Neal. This helped ease his level of play on the court and allowed his body time to rest.
The past three seasons Bryant hasn't had any opportunity to rest his body. He's dug deep since that 2007-08 season, which resulted in a NBA Finals loss to the Boston Celtics, and again a year later, defeating the Orlando Magic in 2008-2009.
During the 2010 Finals, Bryant had a former nemesis turned friend in Ron Artest, who many argued was MVP of Game 7. Artest's defense during the postseason did not go unnoticed, and many attributed it to one of the factors in winning Bryant his fifth ring.
Since then though, the level of play from Artest, Fisher and Pau Gasol has fallen drastically. Gasol has become known to be "soft," Fisher struggles to place points on the board and Artest was mostly nonexistent during this postseason.
If the Lakers are to bring Bryant and the rest of the squad another ring, they are going to have to do some serious leg work in the offseason, most notably on the bench.
Bryant is no longer the young shooter of the past who could put up 45 points a night and continue doing so with little impact on the body. He aches, he pains and now it is obvious.
One final dagger for Bryant is that he is no longer young. He is past his peak and will only have a few solid years left in him, should the team stay relatively the same.
To secure a good five more years out of Bryant, the Lakers must address the depth that surrounds them, as this season was possibly one of the worst in recent years. The Kobe Bryant of the past was not there, and unfortunately there was no one to pick up the slack.
L.A. must also address the fact that Bryant will not be here for much longer if they put him through the seasons they have the last four years. It is therefore within their best interest to secure a new shooting guard of the future for the franchise.
Fisher is entering his option year after signing a two-year deal last offseason. It is highly speculative the Lakers will not pick it up, nor should they. Fisher is now 36 years old and will be 37 when returning to the court. The Lakers will need a new point guard, one who is young, fast and can certainly shoot.
Andrew Bynum has been with the organization the last six years, and while he showed strength last season in helping the Lakers win their 16th championship, he was again hurt. Bynum followed that up with an ejection in the final game of the semifinals series against the Mavericks, possibly signing off on his departure papers as well.
Jim Buss himself believes Bynum is the answer, but the 7-foot center hasn't played a full season of basketball since the 2006-07 season and managed to only play 65 games last season due to injuries.
It is time to move forward, as the Lakers team of the last five years is no longer here. Many are aged, and if they want another championship before their star player retires, they must address these issues to find some young players and make something out of nothing fast.
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