BOSTON -- Well, if you're the Lakers, all you could do was look at the bright side of Tuesday night's devastating 131-92 Game 6 embarrassment.
Oh, there wasn't a bright side? OK, all that remained was to look to next year, when championship hopes will begin anew. Here are the ingredients: Mix the presumed return of
Well, here are three words:
Not so fast.
There are almost as many reasons to flash caution flags about the 2008-09 Lakers as there are to start sewing championship banners.
Let's begin with the obvious -- the way they played Tuesday night against the Celtics. Yes, it is extremely tough to win two elimination games in a row, particularly after flying cross-country to play the second in enemy territory. But
Second, a glaring lack of physicality was evident in the Lakers, particularly from
There is also the question of the frontcourt rotation. Perhaps coach
And if Jackson does start the tall lineup of Gasol, Odom and Bynum, remember that Gasol will have to move to a different position. Sure, he'll be in the post from time to time, but he and Bryant found magic with Gasol's roll-to-the-basket rambles this year, and they may be more limited with Bynum on the floor.
Which brings us to Kobe. After a mediocre Game 6 -- 11 of his 22 points came in the first period -- he didn't hang any of his teammates out to dry. He wouldn't talk about what the team needed -- that offseason general-managing thing got him in hot water last year -- and said he was proud of what the Lakers accomplished, even if he was "upset and frustrated" at their play in Game 6. But remember that this has been a long, hard season for the Lakers and for Bryant, one that began in disharmony. Bryant deserves beaucoup credit for becoming a better leader and playing (basically) a team game en route to the MVP award. But remember, also, that he has a legendary short fuse. OK, a championship didn't happen this year and Bryant could say, well, we weren't expected to win. But he will expect to win next year, and if he doesn't see a title team coming together during the season, don't expect much patience from him.
All that, keep in mind, is worse-case scenario. Even in a Western Conference that had eight 50-win teams this season and might be even better next year with the presumed improvement of the Trail Blazers, everything could come together for the Lakers. They have the potential to be a 60-win team and repeat as conference champions. One other thing stands in their way, however, if they want to win a title. That would be the Celtics, who aren't going anywhere either.