The End of a Reign



Even now, a few days after the aftermath, you can
still tell no one saw it coming. The plucky, upstart Mavericks practically slew
a dragon.


The Lakers were the defending champions, a crack team
containing some of the top talent in the NBA, and yet on Phil Jackson’s final
season as their coach, their play-off aspirations came to a messy end at the
hand of the Dallas Mavericks. But you knew that already, didn’t you?


The Lakers-Mavericks conflict is fascinating because
it has all the tropes of a great drama: the end of a reign and the defeat of a
creaking dynasty by the efforts of an underdog, whoda-thunk-it team.


And while the Mavs came out of it looking nimble and
revived, the feeling surrounding the Lakers was a morass of frustration and
anger. Jackson was furious enough to
draw a thirty-five thousand dollar fine for making comments about the


Angry with the lack of calls about defenders
supposedly shoving their legs into Pau Gasol, Jackson lashed
out with
, “I’ve
resisted [saying] this the whole playoffs, but the NBA used to call a ‘knee up
the ass,’ that’s what they called it. You couldn’t lift a knee off the floor to
run a guy off the post—they’ve been doing that every time [against Gasol].
They’re taking him out of the post and he can’t get a tight post spot. We
didn’t complain about it against New Orleans, but the Mavs are doing the same
damn thing and until the league goes back to the rules that they have about
playing post play, Pau’s got to move out and face the basket.”


You can sense that Jackson wants to blame someone, but
it’s hard not to aim one’s ire at Gasol himself, who
gave some of the worst
play-off perform
of his career, averaging
only 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds in the ten playoff games, which led to angry fans
blaming him for the Lakers’s fall


In his exit
, Gasol said, “Our execution was inconsistent throughout the series. We just got
away from the keys and elements of our offense and our game. They were adding
up to the point where it seemed like we barely knew each other at the last
game. It’s an experience we all should learn from.”


But Gasol  also
had the unenviable position of having to deflect rumours that his problems at
home were dragging down his game. Rumours abounded that Kobe
Bryant’s wife Vanessa was causing a rift between Gasol and his girlfriend
Silvia Lopez Castro
, although now Gasol has denied
that these rumours were true


He understood,
however, that there is going to be backlash
, saying “I understand that
with the player that I am and I consider myself to be, there are a lot of
expectations. And once those expectations are not achieved, there’s going to be
criticism. So it’s time to get through it and stand up for yourself. I
understand this is part of the deal, whether you consider it fair or not.”


Meanwhile, people are trying to find reasons for the
humiliating sweep. Co-captain Derek Fisher felt the loss may have been the
Lakers’ due
, saying, “This wasn’t an overnight thing. It happened over
time. Some of it is just a part of making the run that we’ve made for the last
three or four seasons, the number of games we’ve played over the last four or
five years. In a sense, we were set up to have a fall at some point, but I
don’t think any of us imagined falling in this way.”


But statistical probability likely doesn’t come into
it. Bleacher Report’s Josh Benjamin tried
to come up with a few explanations
of his own, from Kobe Bryant’s trying to
win the game on his own, to rumours that Lamar Odom’s off-court reality show
aspirations are causing a distraction. Whatever the reason, messiness and
frustration hurt the play and ultimately destroyed the Lakers, leading to
moments like Andrew Bynum’s unfortunate foul
on Dallas’s J.J. Bareas, which led to a five-game suspension


end result was a disappointing end to the season for the team. Fittingly,
Jackson’s attitude towards the end of his term as coach was elegiac. 
And why not? After all, the next best thing
to a triumphant end of a career is a poignant one. Instead of concentrating on
the loss,
he is planning to
leave for adventure, saying
, “Maybe I’ll get back to those kinds of things, the
adventure part that I’ve always liked to imagine I would do. One of my
favorites is a guy … who traveled the world, east to west and north to south,
on a motorcycle. Those are the kinds of things that interest me, that are
challenges I would have liked to have done.”



Jackson has been an enormous influence on the Lakers
and will likely be missed. When interviewed
, Kobe Bryant said, “I grew up under him. The way I approach things, the
way I think about things—not only basketball, life in general—comes from him.
It’s a little weird for me to think of what next year is going to be


What will it be like with Jackson gone and who will be
the next coach? The rumour mill says that Los Angeles
will turn its gaze onto possible successors
like Rick Adelman, Jeff Van
Gundy and Mike Dunleavy. Another possible
contender is Lakers assistant Brian Shaw


As for the Lakers, there’s no reason to be pessimistic
about next season. As Jackson,
, “We
all know they always come back and get themselves back in the race. The Lakers
are going to survive.”


And maybe next season they’ll be champions once more.


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