For the most part. Sort of…
The largest question: Is the Mamba done?
The answer is…complicated. While the Laker’s flameout sweep at the hands of Dallas (certainly some old guard players there: Kidd / Dirk / Terry) is hilarious, it was also interesting that for most of the time during the leadup to the game, Kobe believed he could still win it. He continuned to think that all the way until the second half (13 points at half, attempting to put the team on his back). Then he accepted it. Sort of (finished with 17 points). Kobe continued to tell reporters to be careful lest they prematurely write of the Laker’s demise.
Yesterday during Mother’s Day Brunch when I tried to engage my brother in “Kobe is done” conversations, he kept waving me off. Just Ross’s take? “You don’t bury the Mamba until he has completely lost. The Lakers are like a Hydra, virtually impossible to kill”. When the game started, I believed it for the first little while. After all, this was the presumptive NBA champs. The team everyone said only got better during the offseason. Kobe would never get swept.
He got swept. Hard.
Kobe got beaten just like the Spurs were taken down – and we may finally be witnessing the changing of the guard. The Duncan / Kobe / Dirk / KG era is coming to a close. Welcome to the rise of the Rose / Durant / Miami Heat era. We think. In his post-game comments, Kobe looked like he in the middle of a dream. This was not happening. Somehow, he was going to wake up, like he always does and carry the Lakers through. He admitted the Mavs were the better team on the day, but still seemed to struggle with accepting the fact that he simply could not carry the Lakers. It was shocking, he seemed so resigned.
With Pau Gasol playing like he was lost in the middle of the woods (due to being dumped by his fiance?), Kobe should have stepped up and taken the slack. In the past, it would have been a forgone conclusion. He would have carried the team. Perhaps, in his postgame conference, he finally realized he can no longer be counted on to do that. This time he could not. No matter how hard he played, he could not win. Kobe lost the secret he had so willingly embraced during the past two title seasons, that and his ability to create shots for himself and his teammates.
Where do the Lakers go from here? They have to retool in the wake of their classless exit (Andrew Bynum has never truly proved his worth – when does he finally get the overrated tag?) and a couple of contracts will probably be shipped. One player of note in their sights? Dwight Howard. Could Howard help the Lakers transition into the post-Kobe era and help him get one last ring? The Lakers could throw together a Bynum / Fisher / Artest / Draft picks for Howard + expiring contracts.
In the end the Lakers have two clear areas of need: heart and point guard.