Steve Kerr said it during Monday night’s Game 5 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs; we are witnessing a changing of the guard in the NBA with the Thunder’s propulsion to the top. The youthful Thunder have faced three opponents in the playoffs so far that are centered around veteran experience, which are the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs.
The young team from Oklahoma City closed out the Spurs on Wednesday night to capture the title of Western Conference champions, and will vie for the Larry O’Brien trophy either against the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics. I wrote about how the Lakers passed the torch to the Thunder after the second round, and wrote about the team’s need to become younger, more athletic and quicker last summer.
With major shakeups in the forecast for the Lakers in the upcoming off-season, what does the Thunder’s rise mean for the Lakers? It means that the Lakers still need to get younger and improve on their athleticism and speed.
Over the past few weeks the rumor mill has been on high-speed regarding who may be coming or going for the Lakers. The Lakers exercised the team option on Andrew Bynum, and will only most likely put him on the trading block if Dwight Howard sets his sights on Los Angeles and commits to an extension with the Lakers.
Pau Gasol is the targeted player that the Lakers have a high probability to shop around the league. Despite Gasol’s reputation for being not much of a physical player, and even though his impact on the Lakers, especially during the post-season, decreased from previous seasons, he is still a player of high value and wanted by several teams in the league.
This week alone, the rumors have stirred up names like Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen just to name a few. Yes, all of these listed players are future Hall of Famers, but they are not what the Lakers need in order to compete with league’s elite for the next several years.
Some would argue that Steve Nash had a renaissance season this year, and they would be right. However, he is 38 years-old. Garnett is 36 and although he is having a solid playoffs, doesn’t seem like the answer for the Lakers problem. Pierce will be 35 in October and Allen will be 37 in July. On top of that, Pierce and Allen have both dealt with injuries, which have slowed their games down this season.
Of course every team should have a couple of players that balance the youth and athleticism with experience and leadership. I honestly believe Derek Fisher’s presence of leadership and experience has made one of the biggest differences to the Thunder in the post-season this year. For the Lakers, Kobe Bryant may be all the experience, maturity, focus and leadership the team needs to influence the other players.
This sentiment is echoed by Laker great Magic Johnson. On ESPN, Magic called out Jim Buss and Lakers management to do just this in the coming months by stating:
“You still build around Kobe [Bryant]. He was still great no matter what his age is. This man showed he’s still dominant as a player. To me, you have to get younger and more athletic. Oklahoma City is young, athletic and fast. The team to beat is the team that knocked you out. That’s Oklahoma City and then the San Antonio Spurs.”
It is crunch time for the Lakers management to get the team back on track. Making it to the second round of the post-season is seen as success to most in the league, but not for the Lakers. The organization has built a tradition and history of the ultimate success through its past successes. Whether it is acquired via trade or free agent signing, the Laker must make moves that ensure success for the next several years. This means getting younger, more athletic and quicker.