The 2012 NBA Playoffs have led to more debates and more discussions than any other year in recent memory. The shortened regular season undoubtedly gave a distinct advantage to teams with consistency and youth.
Teams like the Spurs and Celtics used their veteran leadership and coaching experience to carry them to the playoffs, while the Thunder and the Pacers played competitive night-in and night-out led by the league's young stars.
The biggest question is, where do the Los Angeles Lakers stand?
Two years removed from their last title, the once dominant Lakers now look weaker than ever. There are so many possibilities and scenarios for the 2012-2013 Lakers roster, but that's far from where the real problem lies.
The first move must be to rid of Coach Mike Brown. Yes, some will say that it was only his first year, and in a short season with no training camp he deserves another chance. After all, following the legend who is Phil Jackson is no easy task. But this series showed more than ever why Brown must go.
After a diabolical performance in Game 1, the Lakers came out strong in Game 2, playing strong on the road until the final minutes. But then came the first of many collapses this series. The Lakers had an opportunity to steal home-court from the Thunder and return to Staples Center with a chance to take a lead and control the series.
Instead, they not only lost the game, but also lost a chance to rattle the confidence of the young Thunder. But that is far from the problem. The Lakers froze up on offense and couldn't do anything to stop the Thunder on defense.
Fast forward to Game 4. Down 2-1, following a fantastic performance by Kobe and Bynum on the free-throw line in Game 3, the Lakers opened up Game 4 in phenomenal fashion. But they never could take the game to the next level. They allowed the Thunder to stay close throughout, and ultimately overtake the Lakers once again in the final seconds.
The Lakers looked lost and gave away two golden opportunities, changing the dynamic of the series from what could have been up 3-1 to down 1-3. Thunder Coach Scott Brooks was cool, calm and collected the entire game, reminding his players to just play their game and that the best would happen.
Coach Brown looked clueless.
Coach Brown was supposed to be the savior who would help the team grow on the defensive end of the court. Instead, when the game came down to one play in Game 4, the Lakers looked lost. World Peace stood and watched as the NBA Scoring Title champion, Kevin Durant, lined up for three after he just beat them a few nights earlier.
Now, after a Game 5 loss in which the Lakers stayed competitive for the first three quarters, even following terrible calls on a World Peace flagrant foul and subsequent technicals, the Lakers fell apart again in the fourth quarter. Games 2-4 this series had a similar flow to it—both teams stayed competitive until one overtook the other in the final minutes. Game 5 was a product of poor coaching, a lack of confidence and a lack of leadership.
With 12 minutes ticking on the Lakers season, down six points, they had an opportunity to stay close and try to pull one out. Instead, Bryant started on the bench, a questionable decision, and the Thunder took a commanding lead. The Lakers looked distracted and oblivious while the Thunder seized the moment.
In a series where four wins brings you to the next round, the Lakers lost three in the fourth quarter. The blame must fall on the shoulders of Coach Brown, who just couldn't fix the ever-occurring problems and never seemed to have the full team under his control.
From chemistry issues to maturity problems with Bynum, the locker room was clearly never in sync and the Lakers never really seemed to play as a full team, a distinct opposite of the winning Thunder. All season long the Lakers' biggest issue was consistency, and that was no more evident than in this series with Oklahoma City.
In order for the Lakers to return to being a powerhouse, they need to find someone who can rally the troops and bring the team together. Brown couldn't do it in Cleveland, and now we see he couldn't do it in Los Angeles either.