The Lakers flamed out like Charlie Sheen in rehab -- in spectacular, unprecedented fashion (via a sweep the likes of which coach Phil Jackson has never seen).
And now Phil Jackson says he's coached his last NBA game and Kobe Bryant is talking about a "challenge" to carry on without Action Jackson.
While many in L.A. are bummed over the prospect of a rebuilding cycle (and the loss of a good excuse -- a championship -- to riot this year), here are five reasons the Lakers could be back to full strength in fall:
-Anschutz Entertainment Group, a minority owner of the team, is no slouch. We have a hard time thinking there isn't intense pressure among AEG's ranks to continue to have a championship contender in the venue it owns, Staples Center. And the Clippers aren't going to fill those shoes (or seats) anytime soon.
-The fans: You're going to settle for five years of rebuilding, L.A? And if either Miami or Boston go all the way you think we're going to stand for it? LeBron taking Kobe's spotlight? Shaq giving his old team the finger? Didn't think so.
-Talent: The likes of Pau Gosol (and bad boy Andrew Bynum) have at least one more season with the Lakers by our count, and Bryant remains somewhat of a lifer. The team still has one of the most formidable lineups in the NBA, with or without Jackson.
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-Kobe: Bryant is already talking up next season and, despite all the self-adoration surrounding one LeBron James, he's still the best player in the league -- by far.
-Jackson: Do you really think a guy like Phil Jackson, with one of the best records in sports, and a competitive cool equaled only, perhaps, by John Wooden, is really going to call it quits after an unprecedented finals sweep? We have our doubts. And Jackson has played this retirement card before -- to successful (contract) results.
Keep hope alive, purple and gold.