It's hard to come to terms with defeat when you came so close to victory... certainly we had the tools, and the desire, and the determination to beat the Lakers, only to fall short.
Still, despite the Lakers play in this series, and the bad luck, I felt that we lost the series, rather than being beaten. At some points in this series we played without focus, with some confusion and without the spite needed to put an opponent down. Fundamentally, the reasons we lost are the same reasons it took Jordan 2 seasons to reach the finals vs an aging but cagey Pistons team, and why it took those very same Pistons 2 seasons to overcome an aging but defiant Celtics team: immaturity.
Now, it's true that takes it some luck to win a championship: the bounce of a ball.. and this series basically came down to a slight hesitation allowing a player to make a play beyond his normal realm of ability, and it required Kobe to play at a consistently great level and singlehandedly carry his team.
Bear in mind, that we had seen this kind of thing before with Nash's series vs Dallas in 04-05, but Kobe's feat might actually have been better, coming as it did against a higher quality opponent. After many years of skepticism, and seeing him fail by implosion at some of the most critical points of his career, Kobe finally convinced me of his greatness, and one must give credit where it is due: the 81 point game, and the 60-something point in 3 quarters vs Dallas performance are meaningless stunts. His play in this series was mature, measured and appropriate. I was impressed beyond words.
But it takes time for teams to become ready to contend: Lopez and Dragic are second year players without the supernatural talents of a Duncan, a Shaq or a Magic, and consequently it's going to take time for them to improve to the next level: where they become more consistent and their day-in/day-out game is at a sufficiently high level. Similarly, Clark is going to start to contribute next year, as the team grooms him to become Grant's replacement.
Remember, our game plan is unique: have two completely separate 5-man units, that provides an opponent with the difficulty of having to double up wrt preparation. An extra year, and the infusion of Clark will only strengthen that.
But this year, our team was not quite ready to force its way into the finals and a championship, and that's really why we lost.
How well we do next year depends on a number of additional factors:
- If Amare opts out, and ends up in Miami, then much depends on his replacement: we will need to sign someone at David Lee's level or better. If we can sign Nowitski, with the available cap space, then a championship would be very likely.
- If we can keep the 2nd unit together, then that will go a long way toward keeping the unique tactical advantage of the team intact.
- Which other teams will improve or deteriorate next season. Of the contending western teams, Oklahoma and Portland seem likely to be better next year. The Lakers, Mavs and the Jazz will stay pat. It's hard to tell which way Denver is going. Similarly in the East, Chicago, Milwaukee and Miami figure to improve, while the Magic tread water.
So what does the future hold?
Above all things, this team must keep it's mojo together, and use that to enter next season with a sense of purpose and determination. To understand that it is not that far from winning a title, provided it can raise its game just a little by executing just a little better, communicating on defense just a little better, and playing with just a little more bite and intensity.
If we do all that, we will avoid the Holiday season meltdown, reach 65 wins and the finals.