Commentary

Champs the early favorite for 2009-10

With a talented core and money to keep key players, L.A. the team to beat next season

Originally Published: June 15, 2009
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com
Kobe BryantEmmanuel Dunand/Getty ImagesEven with a title in tow, L.A. might be better next season. Should Kobe figure out his thumb size?

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The common refrain is that in a 30-team league, you need to find a few breaks along the way to win the championship. And certainly, the Lakers have had moments of good fortune in winning this one -- from Pau Gasol's sudden availability in the middle of last season to the unavailability of the Cavs or Celtics as a Finals opponent this season.

Yet what stands out the most about the Lakers' championship this season is how many things didn't go right for them, even during a championship season.

Remember how Andrew Bynum was supposed to be the difference-making big man the Lakers lacked a season ago? He was largely a nonfactor in the postseason. In the series-clinching win Sunday, he was responsible for the Lakers' only stretch of poor play, missing seven shots in the first five minutes and committing a turnover while the Magic raced out to a 15-6 lead. For the Finals as a whole, he had 30 points and 21 fouls.

Remember how the heir apparent at point guard, Jordan Farmar, was there to alleviate any age questions for Derek Fisher? Farmar bounced back a bit late in the playoffs but was such a basket case for most of the second half of the season that he lost minutes to scrap-heap pickup Shannon Brown. The Lakers ended up riding it out with Fisher, 34, at the point. Fisher shot 39.3 percent for the playoffs and 28.4 percent on 3s, and averaged 8 points per game, but L.A. won anyway.

Remember when Sasha Vujacic could make a shot? "The Machine" shot 43.7 percent on 3-pointers during the 2007-08 season and earned a three-year, $15 million deal as a free agent. He was supposed to be the guy to burn double-teams off Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Instead, he went 0-for-The-Finals and was relegated to a bit player in the Lakers' rotation during the final two rounds of the playoffs; in the final seven games, he saw only 33 minutes.

All those things happened, but the Lakers won anyway. And in the end, they did it pretty easily. Houston gave them in a test in terms of the number of games played, but the Lakers notched their final two wins in the conference semifinals by 40 and 19 points. Denver gave them a good run, too, before the Lakers turned up the defense in the final six quarters and ran the Nuggets out of the gym. L.A. won the title without trailing a series worse than 1-0, and had a comfy 2-1 lead with home-court advantage at the three-game mark of every series.