Originally posted on Chasing 23  |  Last updated 5/22/12

24 hours after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2012 playoff ouster, the weather remains sunny in Los Angeles, although the future of the Lakers remains as ominous and as cloudy as ever. The Lakers are officially cap-strapped, have an aging core, lack perimeter shooting, lack consistency at the PG position, and no longer have the same chemistry that once made them title contenders. But then again, they are the Los Angeles Lakers, and as we all know, Laker magic strikes once every 5-7 years. As such I implore you to keep your eyes open for that upcoming Pau Gasol for Dwight Howard and Deron Williams trade….. believe me, its right around the corner.

The media pundits in Los Angeles have had a field day, positing a myriad of reasons for the Lakers’ demise:

  •  Pau Gasol’s second consecutive lackluster playoffs in which he went from averaging 17 ppg on 50% shooting during the regular season, to 13 ppg on 43% shooting during the playoffs.
  • Ramon Sessions’ complete disappearance in which he went from averaging 13 ppg on 49% shooting during the regular season, to 10 ppg on an anemic 38% shooting during the playoffs.
  • Mike Brown’s coaching system, lack of command, and frequent whimsical looks on the sideline.
  • Andrew Bynum: The NBA’s version of Liza Minelli – Diva, Brat, Arrogance, Entitlement, Starlet

While all of these factors no doubt played a role in the Lakers’ 2012 playoff exit, the primary issues at hand were actually much simpler than that, and essentially revolved around 2 factors:

#1: The Lakers simply went up against a team that was better, younger, more athletic, and sported a Big-3 in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, that is arguably the best in the league. Could the Lakers have won this series? Yes, but it would have required them to play to their full potential – something that did not happen. Again, in the end, OKC was simply a better team.

#2 Kobe Bryant has simply become old, and as Charles Barkley has often declared, “Father Time Is Undefeated”.

Yes, Kobe still remains a top 10 player in the NBA, and still remains one of it’s most explosive scorers, averaging 30 ppg throughout the playoffs. Moreover, as we saw during the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the Lakers’ first round playoff series against Denver, Kobe still has the ability to explode at any time, and rattle off points in bunches. However,  the number of shots that Kobe required to get his points during these playoffs, were simply too many. The fact is that Kobe’s shooting percentage has been declining substantially over the past 2 years, and the impact on a team whose offense revolves around their aging Alpha Dog’s shooting prowess is far greater than you think.

To illustrate, during the Lakers’ 2009 and 2010 Playoff runs, Kobe Bryant averaged 30 ppg on an extremely efficient 58% True Shooting. However, during the last 2 playoffs, he has only managed to muster 27 ppg on a very anemic 52% TS. This not only represents a game-changing/series changing 6 percentage point disparity (which in True shooting terms is extremely sizable) but also propels Kobe into an Allen Iverson bracket of efficiency.

Put another way, is it really hard to believe that 2009/2010 Kobe could have pulled the Lakers past OKC in a series that saw 3 out of 5 games decided by 3 points of less? Or that 2009/2010 Kobe would have performed better than 4 points on 1/10 FG in fourth quarters against a budding rival in Kevin Durant?

As Kobe’s shooting declines, so does the margin of error that the Lakers have to win, a luxery than an aging Laker team no longer has. As a result, our expectations for both Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers can no longer be what it once was. This playoff season, Kobe was closer to 34 than 33, while possessing the overall mileage of a 35 year old, and ultimately beckoning the question: Is it time for Kobe Bryant to take a backseat and follow in the footsteps of fellow legends such as Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal, and Tim Duncan? Is it time for him to transform from Alpha Dog to Second Fiddle?

More to come….

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