(Sports Network) - Kobe Bryant did everything he could to ensure that the Los
Angeles Lakers wouldn't be jettisoned from the playoffs in Oklahoma City on
Monday, but a 42-point effort wasn't nearly enough as the younger and more
athletic Thunder sent the visitors scurrying for the Gone Fishin' sign with a
The superstar was even more competitive after the game, however, refusing to
acknowledge what's plain to see -- the championship window for this Lakers
group was slammed shut by Kevin Durant and Company.
"It's kind of unfamiliar territory. I'm really not used to it," Bryant said
about being knocked out of the playoffs in the second round for the second
straight year. "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."
Bryant's partially right, the Lakers have figured things out more often than
not during his tenure in Hollywood. Of course, it's a lot easier to build a
championship contender when you are erecting things around one of the best
players of all-time.
The calendar is quickly turning against L.A. in its effort to build another
championship-level supporting cast around Bryant, who will turn 34 this
Kobe has already put more miles on his arthritic knee than a traveling
salesman amasses on an 1985 Buick. The superstar has played over 50,000
minutes in his NBA career when you factor in all those deep runs in the
postseason. The tread isn't off the tire but it's certainly wasting away.
Any objective analyst could have told you it was time to start easing Bryant's
load during a lockout-shortened 66-game season, short on off days and full of
back-to-backs and even the occasional three-games-in-three-nights stretch.
Mike Brown, the Lakers' first-year coach, is not obtuse and certainly came in
wanting to save Kobe for the postseason, but the Lakers were so painfully thin,
especially in the backcourt, that Bryant ended up averaging 38.5 minutes per
game in 2011-12, fourth in the NBA and just a shade behind Durant, who is in
his early 20s.
By the postseason, Bryant's workload only increased to 39.7 mpg and you could
see him occasionally lose his legs for a spell or two, especially late in
games when he was expected to be a lockdown defender on one end and the closer
at the other.
In Monday's Game 5 clincher for the Thunder, Bryant tried to deliver knockout
punches by pouring in 15 points in both the first and third quarters. None of
his teammates scored 15 in the entire game.
In the end, carrying this team was just too much for the aging Bryant, a
superlative player who proved he is still one of the best four of five
ballers on the planet this season. Like all the greats, he began looking
ahead minutes after the loss.
"Its tough to really process exactly what we need with improvements and what
area we need to improve on," Bryant said. "But that's something that we'll
definitely think through and we've really been great at as an organization.
(General Manager) Mitch (Kupchak) has really done a phenomenal job this past
decade in building title teams pretty quickly. We just have to do it again."
Easier said that done.
For the first time, Bryant flashed a few cracks in the foundation and he is
unquestionably retreating in the one war he will never win. Father Time
eventually decides when the hourglass has run its course for all of us.
Expect the headstrong Bryant to refuse to accept that fact until the bitter
"We're not going anywhere," the 14-time All-Star said of the Lakers. "It's not
one of those things where the Bulls beat the Pistons and the Pistons
Problem is Durant and Russell Westbrook are both 23 and they aren't going
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