Okay, so I was wrong. So were all the experts.
The Lakers did not win it all in 6. In fact it was the Celtics who did . You know,I can’t help looking back and regretting that fourth game when the Lakers were ahead by 24 and the Celtics somehow fought back to win. If the Lakers had managed to win that game and come back to Boston ahead 3-2 , the predictions might have come true. Anything might have happened. But once they suffered that monumental loss, I knew it was all over. The same thing had happened to Phoenix in their opener against San Antonio and later to San Antonio against the Lakers. But this not an excuse. All credit to the Celtics for their fight back.
Just before the playoffs began, I did not project the Lakers to get past the second round since they were without their starting center. However, once the playoffs started and they began to win in style, I ( and many others) got carried away with their success. Now that they’ve lost,in the finals no less, I prefer to think that they overachieved rather than that they failed to meet expectations. I feel that all the abuse heaped on Pau Gasol is unfair. He was playing out of position at center and yet managed to hold his own against some pretty good players, Tim Duncan for one. If fingers have to be pointed at anyone, the L.A bench and coaching staff are the obvious targets. The bench , anointed by the TV experts as the best in the league, played well only in spots and fell apart under pressure and amazingly, Phil Jackson was outcoached by Doc Rivers and his staff. For a Laker fan like me, it’s going to be a long summer.
Looking ahead, I am not so sanguine as those who speak of a Laker dynasty when Andrew Bynum returns.As well as Bynum played before he went down with injury, it was only for half a season. He is not yet a worldbeater though he will give L.A. the interior presence that they lacked in the playoffs. Other sore spots:1) Point guard where Derek Fisher played admirably this season . He is 34 now and one can’t expect much more from him espescially against the young , fast point guards that are in abundance in the West. 2) The bench where Luke Walton and Vladamir Radmanovic need to be replaced. 3) Coach where Phil Jackson will have to rebound from his playoff stumbles this season. Again, without a first round pick,with a bulging payroll, reloading will be difficult though Mitch Kupchak may yet pull off a coup.
The Western Conference figures to get even tougher next year. San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas appear to be on the decline but they will still be tough. New Orleans seems to be the front runner but the young, physical Utah Jazz, Houston ( with the return of Yao Ming), Portland ( with Greg Oden and Brandon Roy) and Golden State and Denver are no pushovers either. Just winning the Conference will be a dogfight.
Meanwhile , in the East, the Celtics should have an easier path to the final than they did this year. Detroit has aged rapidly and will find it difficult to rebuild , burdened as they are with several large long term contracts ; Joe Dumars has his work cut out for him. Cleveland doesn’t have the right chemistry and Orlando and Atlanta, while promising, are still a year or two away. All in all, Boston is almost a lock to make the finals. I can’t say the same for L.A , even with the return of Andrew Bynum. Still, with teams trading so actively, the complexion if things can change overnight. It would be foolish to make any predictions now about 2009. This season was great and next year should be more of the same.
Kobe Bryant seems to be a lightning rod no less than Hillary Clinton is in another arena. He has been the best player in the NBA for some time now but is being criticised for not being the next Michael Jordan. I think it is an unfair criticism. Every good ball player, every ball player, aspires to be the Best and I don’t see what’s wrong with that. It is the sportswriters and the TV pundits who built him up as the next MJ and it is they who are calling him a pretender now. But that’s how they always are. I remember how the late Bill Gallo, then a cartoonist for the N.Y. Daily News, used to jump on and off the Yankee bandwagon. One year the Yankees won several games in a row and were threatening to run away with the AL East. Gallo drew a cartoon showing his stock character, Big Bertha, building a pathway to the stars. A couple of weeks later, when the Yankees went into a tailspin, he had Berth dismantle that same pathway. Instead of taking potshots at Bryant, why not appreciate his competitive spirit, his fearless drives to the basket , his willingness to take the last shot and his defense. Comparisons are pointless since each of us has his favorite and it is difficult to compare players of different eras. In a couple of years , if not sooner, we’ll be talking about LeBron James and Chris Paul and Deron Williams. For now let’s enjoy Kobe and Paul Pierce .