Los Angeles Lakers fans now know what San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys fans felt like watching each other's team beat up on a worse team than themselves in multiple Super Bowls during the '90s.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are most definitely a superior team to the Lakers and the better team won the series, but make no mistake about it, the Los Angeles Lakers were, at worst the third best team in this year's playoffs and at best the second best team.
Before the playoffs started, I predicted the Spurs would win in seven games against the Thunder if the two teams met in the Western Conference Finals. While that may certainly still be the outcome, I will revise my prediction now to the Thunder in six games.
I honestly believe the Lakers would have beaten the Spurs in six games at best or lost in seven at worst. I also believe the Lakers would have beaten the Heat in five or six games, Celtics in five or six games, Pacers in five or six games and 76ers in five games had they met any of those teams in the NBA Finals.
The simple fact is that the three best teams in basketball all reside in the Western Conference. While the Lakers are sitting at home watching the Conference Finals, at least two inferior teams will be playing in them, both in the Eastern Conference.
After watching this Lakers and Thunder series, I now believe the Thunder have what it takes to not only knock off the Spurs in six games but to absolutely run roughshod over whatever inferior team the Eastern Conference happens to place in the Finals as well. The Thunder are that good, period.
As for the Lakers, there are at least two positives that L.A. fans can take away from this Game 5 beating and playoff exit.
The first is that Kobe Bryant, at nearly 34 years old, shows absolutely no sign of slowing down whatsoever. Bryant was the best player on the court in the Thunder series and even threw down four vicious dunks in the fifth game, showing off those young legs that seem to have returned to him from out of the blue, or is it Germany?
When the regular season ended, Kevin Durant had a slight edge in points per game and therefore won his third straight scoring title. However, if the first two round of the playoffs were to be included in the season's scoring totals, Durant's per game average now stands at 27.87 while Bryant's season ends with a per game scoring average of 28.23. This is thanks to his exactly 30.0 points per game playoff scoring average, which included 31.2 points per game in this series against the Thunder, as well as 38.7 points per game over the last three games of the series.
The second is that in losing in five games rather than six or seven, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak must know that the Lakers as currently constructed are done winning titles and that big changes are needed. This being the case, losing in five games rather than six or seven could actually turn out to be a large blessing in disguise for the Lakers franchise and its fans, as it may mean that help is on the way.
The Lakers have a big three, but what they need is a big five—not necessarily five superstars but five quality starters. Ramon Sessions may, in fact, turn out to be a quality starter in this league, and I do expect the Lakers to sign him to a long-term contract extension...unless they can trade for a superstar point guard like Deron Williams or can convince another, such as Steve Nash, to sign a veteran minimum contract with them. Neither possibility is very realistic, however.
The Lakers desperately need a starting-caliber small forward. Metta World Peace makes for a magnificent backup wing but leaves a lot to be desired as a full-time starting small forward.
Trading either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum for a starting quality big man/small forward duo would go a long way to returning the Lakers to the top of the Western Conference.
Pau Gasol for the Atlanta Hawks' Josh Smith and Marvin Williams is one possibility. If the Lakers really like Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, a Bynum and Steve Blake for Smith, Williams and Teague deal is also a distinct possibility.
There are many other trade possibilities as well, such as Bynum to the Celtics for Paul Pierce, a re-signed Kevin Garnett and one of their two first-round draft picks this year.
Changes are coming, Lakers fans. By next year you could be looking at an entirely different roster than what you just saw eliminated by the Thunder.