In the dizzying hangover of the NBA Playoffs, Los Angeles Lakers fans have barely emerged from the shocking haze of Kobe and Co. being swept out of the second round by the previously much-maligned-in-LA Dallas Mavericks.
With the much-hated Miami Heat competing for a spot in the NBA Finals against Coach Phil Jackson's former team, the Chicago Bulls, and the fourth-three-peat, sixth-Kobe-ring, 17th-championship dream-crushing Mavericks looking to put a similar stop to the Oklahoma City Thunder, though very doubtful in a sweep, Lakers fans are left in the unfamiliar state of having no team to root for in mid-May—the Lakers failing to reach even the Conference Finals.
But is this all really so strange? Is it really so shocking, this Lakers fate of 2011?
For most of the front-running, casual bandwagon "Lakers" fans, this is indeed a HUGE shock, for they know little about the NBA, and even less about basketball.
For TRUE Lakers fans who have followed the team for decades through thick and thin (not just when they are winning championships) and who actually pay for season tickets to see the team at Staples Center, rather than slip in the cheapest local bar during "Happy Hour" and hope the game is on their black-and-white rotary dial portable set (while caring more about the canned beans and tortilla chips anyway), this season's conclusion is anything but a shock.
Myself, I predicted the fate of the Lakers this season to a tee.
Despite all the "Faker" fans weeping and eating crow right now when they cried and whined about my uncannily-accurate foretelling articles, it gives me no joy to see our team in such a disarray.
Like I wrote in my "Laker Disappointment: Is It Inevitable?" article way back in February, in which I was 100 percent right in all my predictions, including the Lakers being eliminated in the second round by the Mavericks, the Lakers need to rebuild next year.
Just as Laker legend Magic Johnson has called to owner Jerry Buss to "blow up" this team, the Lakers need some serious restructuring if they want to compete again anytime soon.
Don't get me wrong—the Lakers won't win another NBA title until well after Kobe is retired. I'm just talking about making the playoffs and avoiding a first-round elimination.
First off, the Lakers desperately need another starting point guard. No, Steve Blake ain't it. Chris Paul would have been nice, when he was willing to be traded to the Lakers last summer, but, of course, all the "Fakers" fans were actually claiming Fisher is "better" than Chris Paul? Like I said, these "Fakers" know little about the NBA and even less about basketball.
In fact, the entire Lakers starting five, except for Kobe, needs to be replaced.
Artest is nothing but a self-centered joke nowadays; anyone thinking he can help bring our team back to another championship needs to get their head checked more than Artest.
Gasol has proven that he's been soft all along. The man simply cannot play in the paint. It was easy for him in the past, when the entire defense is focused on Kobe, to make some easy hoops. Now that Kobe is no longer feared, Pau has been exposed for the invisible man that he really is.
Bynum—what's left to be said about this clown and joker? Bynum missed 24 games to start the season by putting off surgery to attend the World Cup (all while receiving $13-plus million a year from the Lakers). After throwing the entire team out of sync, how can these "Fakers" fans ever have embraced such a selfish player?
And then, when we need him most, in the playoffs, he absolutely disappears against the Mavericks.
In Game 4, when the Lakers were either going to mount the biggest comeback in the history of the NBA Playoffs, or get embarrassed and humiliated by being blown out on the way to getting swept by the Mavs, how does Bynum step up?
He steps up by scoring SIX points in four quarters, and grabbing six rebounds with one assist. The most effort he made on any play in the game was when he elbowed Mavs back-up guard Jose Barea in the ribs after Barea had dribbled from the half-court line, beating three of Bynum's teammates, and Bynum himself, on the way to the basket to make an easy lay-up.
Despite the despicable and cowardly foul on the 5'11" guard, the smallest player on the court, Barea still made the shot, which goes to attest the quality of Bynum's "defense" all season.
Worst, it confirmed to even the most clueless and blind "Fakers" that the Lakers have gone from the classy and reputable organization of the Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar days, to now being the lowest, dirtiest, most disgusting, classless, cheap organization in the NBA.
It's been argued that the Lakers have gone from having humanitarian Magic Johnson as its leader, to now having an alleged rapist in Kobe Bryant leading the "moral code" and "character" of the team—so what can one expect?
However, I think that explanation is too simplified and lets the Lakers organization off the hook too easily. While it may be true that Kobe is not the ideal locker room model for the rest of the team, unlike Michael Jordan who was a true leader, winner and role model for the rest of the Chicago Bulls, as well people around the world, Kobe is not the only reason for the Lakers' decline in values and respectability.
The front office must accept some of the blame for not putting their foot down when Bynum engaged in his dirty tactics in trying to injure opponents in the same way he tried to end the season for Barea twice before, against Michael Beasley and Gerald Wallace.
From Ron Artest face-grabbing Barea, to Lamar Odom lowering his shoulder to run through a screen, the Lakers have been exposed as an old, classless, nonathletic team that resembles more like a gang of chumps than a band of champions.
And perhaps this is what the Kobe-era Lakers always was. If Shaquille O'Neal wasn't on the team in the last '90s to early 2000s, perhaps the Lakers wouldn't have become the class act that they were then.
It takes strong, classy leaders to lead a classy team. It takes weak, classless leaders to lead a classless team. Given that Artest's, Odom's and Bynum's actions have rightly caused the Lakers to be labeled a "classless" team by commentators and basketball experts around the world, it doesn't take a Ph.D. from Caltech to deduct that the Lakers' "leader," i.e. Kobe Bryant, is a weak and classless leader.
And there, my fellow TRUE purple-and-gold Lakers fans (or not), lies the problem. Until Kobe retires or is pushed to the background by another superstar like Dwight Howard (however unlikely), our team will be led by a man with energy from the dark rather than the light, with a mojo of "evil" and cheating rather than Michael Jordan's true "good" energy of a champion.
So until Kobe is gone, don't expect any championships any time soon.