The inevitable took place last night in Oklahoma City, as the Thunder unceremoniously ushered Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers out of the Playoffs.
The young, frighteningly talented Thunder simply outclassed the older, slower, and bickering Lakers.
Kobe Bryant, ever the optimist, boldly claimed that it wouldn’t be long until Los Angeles would be back on top of the NBA again. He also vehemently denied that he was nearing his own basketball mortality.
From NBA.com and Yahoo! Sports:
“It’s kind of unfamiliar territory,” Bryant said after midnight and after the Thunder beat the Lakers 106-90 on Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena and 4-1 in the series. “I’m really not used to it. It’s pretty odd for me. I’m not the most patient of people and the organization’s not extremely patient either. We want to win and win now. I’m sure we’ll figure it out. We always have and I’m sure we will again.” Pressed about being a veteran team that had just been knocked out of the playoffs by the youthful Thunder, Bryant said: “I’m not fading into the shadows, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m not going anywhere.” “The entire team…” a reporter began the follow-up question. “We’re not going anywhere,” Bryant interrupted. “It’s not one of those things where the Bulls beat the Pistons and the Pistons disappeared forever. I’m not going for that (stuff).”
And yet Bryant is willing to gamble considerable stakes against any critic who suggests the Lakers’ championship window has closed. “Put your house on it,” Bryant said. “I would put my house on it. I ain’t going nowhere. They can put their house on it, but I don’t think they want to bet that because they’re not stupid. They’re foolish, but they are not stupid.”
Bryant, smartly, wouldn’t speculate on what changes the Laker front-office needs to make this offseason, but it would seem obvious that a major shake-up is needed. Kobe netted 42 points last night, and except for Pau Gasol (who he’d publicly shamed into being more aggressive), he was seemingly all alone out there.
After a tense and highly competitive first half, the OKC Thunder made quick work of the Lakers in the second half, sending them into an offseason of great uncertainty. And despite Kobe Bryant’s assurances, there are no quick and easy answers for his Lakers going forward.