May 8, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown during a time out with point guard Ramon Sessions (7), point guard Steve Blake (5), power forward Pau Gasol (16) and shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) in the final seconds of game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Denver Nuggets at the Staples Center. Denver won 102-99. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Where Do The Los Angeles Lakers Go From Here? The Missing Piece

People have called me crazy, and some other names I cannot repeat, for saying that the Los Angeles Lakers would represent the Western Conference in the 2012 NBA Finals. Despite the constant name calling, I remained grounded in my stance because of my constantly reiterated prerequisites for championship contenders: Size, Defense, Superstars. The Lakers have all three and even though they struggled at times during the season, they still played solid basketball, especially against top contenders. The general favorite this year is Oklahoma City, with the San Antonio Spurs being a sleeper pick to be crowned the Western Conference Champions. Yet, I still believed in the Lakers.

That was the case until this series against the Denver Nuggets. Yes, the Lakers have been without Metta World Peace, who brings excellent defense and energy, but they still have current and former All Stars in Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol. However, only one of the three has been playing at an All Star level. Kobe Bryant cannot win alone, and must get the best out of Gasol and Bynum.

Bynum has shown spurts of immaturity throughout the 2011-2012 season and it has bled into the Playoffs. Never was it more evident than in Game 6 against the Denver Nuggets. The “frown heard ’round the world” was when he sat on the bench away from the team during a timeout. He was not invested in the team whatsoever and that cannot be ignored.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That sure is not the case with Bynum, and the rest of the Lakers roster too. Players such as Ramon Sessions and Matt Barnes look very timid offensively, and the paint players are getting bullied by JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried. Don’t close the tab, that was not a typo. I really did say somebody was getting bullied by JaVale McGee. The level of intensity at which the Lakers have played thus far is unacceptable for a championship caliber team. In order to advance, and compete with the young, athletic, and rested Oklahoma City Thunder, they’ll have to compete at the same level that they were playing with during their championship runs. The Lakers could potentially still pose a threat to the Thunder because athleticism is not equivalent to winning championships. Understandably, it will not be the same because there are new players and a new system, but the core remains: Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest). The Lakers need to rally behind the return of Metta World Peace, awaken their killer instinct, and end this series which should have been concluded already.

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