The Lakers are never used to this; they didn't get past the second round for the second consecutive year. This time around, they fell to the young and hungry Oklahoma City Thunder. I bring back Andy Kamenetzky (@ESPNLandOLakers) from Land O' Lakers under the ESPN L.A. umbrella. We discuss the Lakers' playoff run and where they go from here (by the way, shoutout to his brother, Brian, also for helping me out throughout the playoff run).
This is obviously not what we wanted out of the Lakers. Whose performance disappointed you the most in these playoffs?
There are, unfortunately, lots of legitimate choices. The bench wasn't great (but what else is new). Pau Gasol trailed off after a very strong start, and there were times he could/should have forced the aggressive issue more. Ramon Sessions was obviously a postseason disappointment. Even Kobe Bryant played poorly down the stretch of Game 2 and 4 losses.
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But to a large degree, Gasol remained the victim/scapegoat of a fuzzily defined role that plays against many strengths in a system that remains under construction. He wasn't truly in a position to deliver as capable. And Sessions also wouldn't be the first young player overwhelmed by his first playoffs. Plus, he also wasn't allowed to play to his strengths (high pick-and-roll), which didn't help his case while navigating a whole new world. As for Kobe, he was the only guy who showed up in Game 6 against Denver, despite needing IV fluids to finish the game. This wasn't his best postseason of his career, but as always, he came to play.
Thus, I'd probably say Andrew Bynum, even though he enjoyed some very high end performances. Why? Because the low points were largely the result of his own disengagement. Drew wasn't mentally and emotionally reliable enough at a time when his presence could make or break any prayer of a deep run. I didn't necessarily expect Bynum to carry the Lakers through the playoffs, since that's realistic to begin with. But I was disappointed he wasn't more game to try.
Did you, at some point, think that the Oklahoma City series was winnable?
Winnable? Sure. The Lakers were in a realistic chance to win games 2 and 4 (particularly 4), and bricked the execution down the stretch in both cases. I imagine this eats away at the players, and it should. On the other hand, the Thunder obviously had a hand in these comebacks, and most importantly, were opportunistic when the door suddenly opened. For all the talk about the Lakers' veteran experience vs. OKC's young core, the Thunder proved by far the mentally tougher team. They made fewer mistakes while boasting a higher margin for error. Combined with the fact they're the better team to begin with and the right team ultimately advanced.
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There are a lot of things to be done with this Laker team... but what should be the primary focus for the Lakers in the offseason?
Soul searching the future with Bynum. Is he really capable of being a franchise face? A pillar of this organization moving forward? The talent is obviously there, but there are responsibilities that go along with that gig. The jury remains decidedly out as to whether he can pull it off. If the front office has lingering doubts about Drew being the guy, shop him, because Bynum will land the best return, whether Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, or someone in the ball park. And if they do believe in Drew as the next torch bearer, then folks like Kobe Bryant, Mitch Kupchak, Mike Brown and Jim Buss need to stay in his ear all summer about the leadership expected from him and the importance he carries. Based on his insightful exit interview comments, Bynum understands this. But understanding and doing are two different things. This is a massive decision, a potential game-changer for the franchise.