May 21, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant reacts to being defeated by the Oklahoma City Thunder in game five of the Western Conference semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder defeated the Lakers 106-90. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Kobe Bryant Era At The Crossroads

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What the Lakers have accomplished during the Kobe Bryant era is nothing short of a modern sports miracle. How many franchises can build a dynasty then rebuild it again on the fly? From the heights of Kobe and Shaq to the depths of Kwame and Smush then back to summit of Gasol and Bynum. A truly amazing rollercoaster ride that KB24 is unwilling to exit. You can’t convince Kobe that his career is officially at the crossroads. As far as Mamba is concerned his window to win is wide open and just needs a little dust removed from the sill.

No matter Kobe’s opinion of his title chances the undeniable fact is that this current collection of talent can’t cut it. Two straight exits in the Western semis combined with two straight years of fighting tooth and nail just to get out of the first round all but indicates the team is in decline.

For good measure Kobe has spent the last week distancing himself from teammates that might not be around in the coming year.

There’s an old saying that goes “just because you needed the raft to cross the river doesn’t mean you need to drag it through the desert”. Consider Pau Gasol the raft in this Zen analogy.

Mitch Kupchak’s first miracle as a G.M. was to turn Kwame Brown into Gasol. Now he’s got to turn Gasol into that next something that will give the Lakers one last opportunity to win as the Kobe Bryant era draws to a close.

The problem for Kupchak is that Kobe isn’t going to be patient. In Bryant’s mind the Lakers are on the doorstep of getting his title count into Jordan territory. So that ticking clock is only getting louder with each passing day.

In order for the Lake Show to raise the curtain on a title contender in 2013 it’s going to take some serious heavy lifting. The type of lifting the Lakers might not be capable of given the value of their most tradable assets.

Let’s be honest. This situation is much different than the last time the Lakers had to retool their roster.

There is no Gasol out there that can instantly make the Lakers contenders. Not when you look at how little talent there is from top to bottom on the L.A. roster. One trade won’t give this team depth on bench and athleticism on the perimeter.

So here we find our Lakers, clearly at the crossroads of the Kobe Bryant era. In one direction is a familiar route that could end in Titletown. In the other direction is an unknown road winding its way to an unfamiliar destination in the Land of Rebuilding. No matter the direction taken all roads come to a dead end.

This era is ending. No denying that. Just what type of ending it will be depends on what happens in the coming months.

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Tags: Kobe Bryant Kwame Brown Mitch Kupchak Pau Gasol

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