If Phil's back, LA rolls
The nucleus of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest is under contract for the 2010-11 season. Bynum should be healthy. Even if Derek Fisher retires, Mitch Kupchak should be able to find a point guard to fill the void.
The big question marks revolve around Jackson and LeBron James. Jackson steadies the Lakers, and without him, the star-filled Lakers could lose sight of the team concept.
James adds another variable to the equation. If he joins Dwyane Wade in Miami, the Heat immediately would join the league's elite and could cause the Lakers (and everyone else) headaches.
In the West, the Thunder are the team of the future. But for one more year, the Lakers should be the class.
Too much can happen
Considering the NBA is about to undergo an extreme makeover, it is ludicrous to even try to handicap the race, let alone make any proclamations about a Lakers team that might not even have Phil Jackson leading the way.
That said, this hardly was a team of dominance this season, but rather one pushed to the ultimate limit in the ultimate game of the season. And even before the desperate scramble from a 3-2 Finals deficit, Kobe & Co. were being pushed to Game 6s against the Thunder and Suns.
No, let's first see where LeBron & Co. land.
Of course, should LeBron land with the Lakers in some sort of sign-and-trade, then there might not be a need for a debate, or 2010-11 season, at all.
Prepare for a parade
Los Angeles Times
Nothing can stop the Lakers from three-peating next year.
Unless Phil Jackson (and/or Derek Fisher) leaves. Unless Kobe Bryant/Andrew Bynum don't fully recover from their injuries. Unless LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson form a super team that destroys everything in its path (a far-fetched plot, but not impossible). Unless the Thunder continue their exponential improvement and overtake the Lakers as the dominant power in the West (not far-fetched at all, really). Unless the Nuggets/Mavericks finally put it all together (that'll be the day).
The key factor in it all is Bryant. He wants to match MJ's six titles, badly, so he'll wheel and deal to keep the team together. And even though the Lakers likely won't be as good next year, they'll be good enough.
So keep that riot gear close, LAPD. It'll get crazy again in 2010-11.
Kobe ties MJ's titles
The Lakers will repeat as long as Kobe Bryant draws a paycheck and Pau Gasol supplies his occasional bursts of magic. And, no, this team isn't as dominant as those led by Magic.
But with the Eastern Conference full of pretenders like the Orlando Magic and the Whatever LeBrons, that conference isn't ready. (The Celtics' Big Three made a valiant, last gasp.)
And the Suns' surprising advancement to this season's West finals shows how lacking the Lakers' substantive competition is. Yes, this title was tougher. But Tim Duncan is a year older, the Thunder are a year or two too young and Kobe lives for history. He should get it in the form of his second three-peat, matching his idol, MJ.