Last year, it was a sweep by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks.
This year, it's the on-the-rise Thunder, and potential champs themselves.
Game 5 was, in many ways, a microcosm of what we saw all series. Throughout each game, the Lakers kept it close, nearly winning games 2 and 4, but a lack of execution down the stretch showed that the Thunder have an advantage; whether it be youth, talent, or even coaching, they had an edge that allowed them to survive in late game situations.
Game 5 played out in similar fashion. The Lakers kept it tight through 3 quarters. But unlike LeBron, who recognized that he must play nearly all 48 minutes in their last game to ensure a victory, Kobe can no longer fill that role. He needs his requisite rest to start the 4th quarter. A chance to recharge before the final push. But last night, that rest allowed the Thunder to put the game out of reach. Of course, in years past the Lakers had a supporting cast that was prepared for the potential onslaught, but between foul trouble, shrinking from the moment, and general lapses, it was not to be.
So what's next for a team that won back-to-back titles just 2 years ago? For the team led by the league's best closer, coached by a legend, and featuring two athletic 7 footers that can run the floor on breaks?
Changes are afoot, for sure. Bynum's contract is up, Pau is getting called out by Kobe, and Kobe, well, just may not be enough anymore. There had been rumors all year about a Bynum for Dwight Howard trade, but his most recent, potentially chronic, injury casts significant doubt on that prospect. Will the Lakers still try to move an inconsistent Bynum? It seems fair value doesn't even exist for a player like him. The other option would be to make another commitment to the sometimes here, sometimes there center. Can a championship team really be built around his "effort" and "dedication"?
If that's not the direction, Pau's most recent performance has potentially done irreparable damage to his value. His effort in key situations did not live up to his skill set, nor to the effort we've seen in the past.
The reality is, the core of this team has seen its best days. In the case of MWP, even his best days came with a lot of baggage. The only solution is to start over. With a franchise that has rarely seen a down, or "rebuilding" year, they must find a fresh start.
Keep your backcourt, and load up on picks. Move veterans and look to the future.
In the post-Showtime era, the Lakers were forced into this transition. This time, they must chose to enter it themselves.