Fri, Jun 20, 2008 - Page 23 News List

Bryant to make Lakers a top contender next season

AP , LOS ANGELES

Although the Los Angeles Lakers' season ended with a thud, they have Andrew Bynum coming back and youth and Kobe Bryant on their side, so they can say "Wait 'til next year" and be taken seriously.

Since Shaquille O’Neal left town with three NBA championship rings following the 2003-2004 season, Los Angeles has been vulnerable inside on both ends of the floor. Boston’s big men, exemplified by Kevin Garnett in Game 6, were more than the Lakers could handle.

As the Celtics were romping to a 131-92 victory in their clinching Game 6 on Tuesday, a Boston fan held a sign that read, “Kobe, You Can’t Do Jack Without Shaq.”

Bryant might be able to do that and more with 213cm, 130kg Bynum at center and 213cm Pau Gasol at forward.

Acquiring Gasol in February turned the Lakers’ season around, helping them win the tough Western Conference and come within two games of taking the league title. But Gasol, at 114kg, didn’t have the bulk needed to match up against heftier players.

“They overran us. Garnett knocked Pau down in the lane and scored an easy basket in the first four or five possessions and set kind of a tone,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

Bryant’s options were limited because he couldn’t drive to the hoop consistently. The Celtics could.

Asked what Bynum will bring to the team, Bryant said, “Rebounding and shot-blocker in the middle. He solves a couple of those.”

Sasha Vujacic is guaranteeing that the Lakers will win it all next season.

“Especially with Andrew and the same group, we won’t be short two games like we were this year. I can guarantee you that,” Vujacic said.

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