Top 5 Reasons Kobe Bryant and The LA Lakers Won't Win Rings In The Next 5 Years
Our Los Angeles Lakers have gone on a brilliant run the past decade or so, having won five of the past eleven NBA Championships on the backs of all-time Laker greats such as Shaquille O'Neal, Derek Fisher and Robert Horry, giving us memorable Finals performances that rival those of Laker legends Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.
But while the team has regrettably attracted a lot of front-running, bandwagon "fans" that showed interest in the team only once we began our most recent championship run and having eschewed the Lakers during the "lost decade" of the 1990's for teams such as the Chicago Bulls and the Dallas Cowboys, these "Faker fans", as they are commonly referred to online, will once again abandon the team in en masse when our Lakers fail to bring home another Larry O'Brien Trophy over the next five years.
And perhaps this purging of the front-running bandwagoners may be the only silver lining in what will be a freezing, five-year Winterland in Lakerdom.
As discussed in my article, "Laker Disappointment: Is It Inevitable?", the cycle of Lakers dominance is once again at an end.
Here are the Top 5 reasons why.
5. OLD ENEMIES
The San Antonio Spurs have gone on a resurgence this year, leading the league in wins this season and returning to their championship form of old, having won four NBA Championships in the last twelve years.
Despite Tim Duncan's career lows in points and rebounds this season, his veteran leadership along with the brilliant team play of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have the Spurs as favorites coming out of the Western Conference.
The Boston Celtics have quieted all doubters to remain the best team in the East, leading the conference in wins and showing that despite their age they are still a championship contender, and perhaps in better form than when they won the NBA Championship three seasons ago.
With a resurgent Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, along with the consistent Paul Pierce and ever-improving Rajon Rondo, the Eastern Conference crown is the Celtics to lose, which is becoming more and more unlikely each month.
Both teams have beaten the Lakers mercilessly this season and can do so again in the playoffs.
Lucky for us Laker fans, it's doubtful the Lakers will face the humiliation of being beaten down and blown out by the Celtics in the NBA Finals again like they were in 2008.
The Spurs will make sure of that.
4. YOUNG BLOOD
With their eyes aiming skyward, the NBA is on the cusp of a new sea-change in leadership lead by some of the most promising young talents to enter the the league in the last 19 years.
Though the faux, front-running bandwagon fans who understand little of basketball and who have not witnessed eras come and go in the NBA may disagree, the future of the league belongs to prodigious talents and likely future Hall-of-Famers like Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant.
In just his second season in the NBA last year, Durant became the league's youngest ever scoring champion and lead his team the eighth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder to a surprisingly competitive first round playoff series against the No. 1 seeded Lakers.
This season Durant has continued his excellence in again leading the league in scoring and powering the Thunder to currently fourth place in the Western Conference standings, only two games behind the third place Lakers with a good chance of overtaking them by the end of the regular season. If they do so, that would put the Lakers on a collision course with the likely No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs.
Rookie sensation Blake Griffin has been the talk of the NBA this season. Starting from his breakout 44 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists game against the New York Knicks, which contained a plethora of highlight reel dunks including the jaw-dropping, face-stuffing-into-crotch-simulated-forced-fellatio poster that he performed on 7'1" Knicks center Timofey Mozgov, Briffin has been dominating the ESPN daily highlights on a nightly basis.
Averaging 22.9 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, Griffin is having the best rookie season since Shaquille O'Neal nearly 20 years ago, and has been rewarded with an All-Star selection, being the first rookie All-Star since Yao Ming in 2003.
With injuries to their former All-Stars Chris Kaman and Baron Davis at the beginning of the season, Griffin's Los Angeles Clippers started out with a miserable 5-21 record before his dominant play began turning the team's season around, winning their next 12 out of 19 games before injury struck again, this time to Clippers' leading scorer Eric Gordon.
Though the Clippers are unlikely to make the playoffs this season, Griffin's remarkable abilities along with a strong nucleus of young talent on the Clippers makes them virtual locks for the playoffs in the foreseeable future.
But like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley before them, just having phenomenal individual talent does not guarantee championships, and it remains to be seen whether Griffin and Durant's teams will be able to surround them with the necessary talent to compete for the title.
But while their teams may not be factors in this year's NBA Finals, expect the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers (if they can hold onto Griffin) to be mainstays of the Western Conference Playoffs for the next ten years or so, and in the process becoming the villains of Lakerdom who threaten to usher our heroes toward an early summer sunset year after year.
3. THE ZEN MASTER
It has been quite clear for some time that without head coach Phil Jackson, our Lakers might not have won even one of our five championships in the past eleven years.
After all, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant played together for three years on the Lakers without ever even reaching the NBA Finals, and making the Western Conference Finals just once, despite having many of the same supporting cast that would go on to win three back-to-back-to-back titles including Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and Robert Horry.
No, it wasn't until the Lakers hired Jackson to mold our team into a championship unit, to teach them the intricacies of the game at the highest level, and to emulsify the smoldering tensions of the various egos of the team that we won the first of those five titles...during Phil's first season as the Lakers head coach.
When Jackson followed Shaq's lead in leaving the Lakers in 2004, the team went from being defending Western Conference Champions to not even making the playoffs in 2005.
Such a drop usually follows a team losing their franchise player, not their coach, like how the Cleveland Cavaliers went from having the best record in the NBA last season with LeBron James to having the worst record in the league without LeBron James in addition to setting the all-time NBA record for most consecutive loses.
The difference between this year's Cavaliers and our Lakers in 2005 is that we still had Kobe Bryant.
But Phil Jackson is no ordinary head coach.
While Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player and competitor there ever was, never won an NBA Championship without Phil Jackson, Phil Jackson has won numerous NBA Championships without Michael Jordan.
And though Shaq went on to win another NBA title without Phil, it's quite foreboding for our Lakers' future that Kobe couldn't even make the playoffs without Shaq or Jackson.
2. THE KING'S COURT
While LeBron James may be the most vilified and despised NBA superstar outside of Miami, he is also undoubtedly the most talented and gifted basketball player the world has seen since Michael Jordan.
Though a former Rookie of the Year, seven time All-Star, four time All-NBA First Team, two time All-Defensive First Team and All-NBA Second Team, two time All-Star MVP, and two time NBA Most Valuable Player on the way to likely his third consecutive MVP Award this season, James has yet to reach the peak of his basketball prowess, ensuring years more of basketball excellence for NBA fans, and delight or misery depending on whether you're a subject of his court or an enemy of his state.
Having joined the Miami Heat this season after a prolonged and controversial free agency, James has finally surrounded himself with teammates that can help him win his first NBA Championship, a move that all the King's men in Cleveland could not do to the Cavaliers' detriment.
Joining "King James" is fellow Class of 2003 draftee, Dwyane Wade, who has already won an NBA Championship as well as the Finals MVP Award with the Miami Heat in 2006.
Perhaps the league's most talented, explosive and exciting shooting guard, Wade along with James have formed the league's most unstoppable tandem this season, being the top two leaders in transition points and both ranking in the top four of the NBA's scoring leaders, ahead of Kobe Bryant.
Rounding out the King's Court is another Class of 2003 draftee, All-Star Chris Bosh, who may be the most maligned and under-rated power forward in the league this season and perhaps the most talented role player on any team in the NBA, having dominated Pau Gasol in their key match-up during the Lakers' embarrassing blow-out loss at home to the Heat on Christmas Day.
While it may take another season before the Miami Heat play enough games together to reach Championship-caliber status, without a doubt they will be the NBA's next dynasty, with a chance to achieve something that even Jordan's Chicago Bulls couldn't do, that is to win four titles in a row, and in the process preventing our Lakers from another championship in the foreseeable future.
1. KOBE BRYANT
There is no question that Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest Lakers ever to don the purple and gold this millennium, playing with perfect pitch as sidekick and Robin to Shaquille O'Neal's Batman/Superman/Iron Man/God during the duo's three consecutive NBA Championships in 2000-2002, the first titles for the Los Angeles Lakers since 1988, when the Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-led squad won the final of their five championships together.
After a heartbreaking Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons in 2004, Shaq and Kobe split ways, fueled by a feud that reached its crescendo when Bryant revealed to Colorado authorities of Shaq's marital infidelities during Bryant's arrest for sexual assault on a Colorado hotel employee prior to the 2003-04 season.
With O'Neal gone, Bryant was left to lead the Lakers by himself, resulting in the team missing the NBA Playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
Bryant persevered, however, and though suffering back-to-back first round playoff exits the following two years, Kobe slowly found his voice and his role as the leader of the Lakers under the inspired direction of Phil Jackson, and assisted by then-Memphis Grizzlies GM Jerry West's gift trade of Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown, brought another two titles to Los Angeles in 2009 and 2010.
However, Kobe's athletic prowess has steadily declined since the 2005-06 season, when he averaged his career high of 35.4 points, to this year averaging exactly ten less points. Though his rebounding and assist averages have remained consistent, his scoring average has declined each year since then along with his minutes, the result of the mounting toll fifteen years in the league has had on his body and the injuries that he has suffered as a result.
With Kobe's growing age and diminishing skills, the Lakers as a team are also in decline, with all starters except for Andrew Bynum over the age of 30, and starting point guard Derek Fisher at 36 years old being one of the oldest players in the league.
Despite his age and his reduced effectiveness, Bryant still has three more seasons left on his contract with the Lakers after signing a three-year, $83.55 million extension in 2010, which takes effect next season and will pay him an eye-popping $30,453,805 during the 2013-14 season.
With the Lakers already saddled with the highest payroll in the NBA and paying the most luxury tax of any team, and with the new CBA looming this summer that threatens not only to reduce the salary cap, but to install a NFL-style hard cap which teams are not allowed to exceed, Bryant's contract will prove detrimental to the Lakers' efforts in bringing in newer, younger players that can help reverse the Lakers' current decline.
As Bryant has stated that he intends to play even beyond his current extension, the Lakers might be forced to offer the then 35 year-old Bryant with another extension after 2014, further obstructing any efforts to bring in another maximum contract franchise-type player that can lead the team toward the next era. Without having a continuation of infusing young, elite talent into the team, the Lakers will be put in a position of needing to rebuild after Bryant finally retires, which will cause even more delay in bringing the Lakers back into championship contention.
After Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989 followed shortly after by Magic's early retirement in 1991 as a result of contracting the HIV virus, it took the Lakers twelve years after the 1988 title to win another championship through the process of rebuilding.
It was only after the Lakers won the Shaquille O'Neal free agency sweepstakes in 1996 combined with trading Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets during the 1996 NBA Draft for Bryant, a steal as the 13th pick though considered risky at the time being a high school prospect, that we were able to put together our next championship-winning nucleus.
With the potential of a hard salary cap installed as a result of the new CBA, the playing fields for all teams will be leveled, and the possibility of scoring another Shaq and Kobe-esque coup will undoubtedly diminish for the Lakers.
Though his legacy as a Laker hero is forever set in stone, Kobe's diminishing skills along with his hugely inflated contract in the era of the new CBA and his insistence to play years beyond his prime will be the major reason why the Los Angeles Lakers will not win another NBA Championship for the next five years, if not for many more after that.