Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant Have Difficult Road Ahead to Compete with Oklahoma City Thunder

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | If the Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder are this good and still so young, how can any team expect to compete with them as they continue to improve in the coming years?

This is the question the Los Angeles Lakers have to be pondering as the team can only watch the 2012 NBA Playoffs from home. The Thunder will be dangerous for years to come. They are prolific on offense, athletic, and explosive -- and barely out of their NBA diapers. It's that last element -- youth -- that won't allow the Lakers to beat the Thunder in the Kevin Durant era.

That's right, the 2012 scoring champion gets to have his very own 'era' now after leading his team in winning the Western Conference, otherwise known as the de facto NBA title.

As far as the Lakers are concerned, even if the best case scenario were to happen and the team somehow manages to improve the roster over the offseason, getting past Oklahoma City is not going to be easy and may be downright impossible over the next several years.

The concerns of the Lakers are well-documented: Kobe Bryant is aging, Andrew Bynum can't be trusted, Pau Gasol is soft, Mike Brown's system isn't as effective as the triangle, the bench is abysmal, and so on.

The validity of these loaded statements is another story. But the fact remains that the Lakers are being passed by, and there's not much they can do about it given their financial circumstances.

There's no potential scenario that Lakers fans can hold on to in order to find much comfort or hope for the near future. Acquiring a player like Deron Williams will require trading away the team's most valuable asset (that's asset, not player, although a case could be made for that too) in Bynum, and at that point, the team only gets marginally better, if at all.

Signing a big-name free agent won't work either. The Lakers are far above the luxury-tax threshold that would allow them to pay more than the mid-level exception for any player without executing a sign-and-trade.

Fans have been clamoring for Lamar Odom to come back to Los Angeles, but the fact of the matter is that he can't return until December 2012, one year after he was traded, under the new collective bargaining agreement. Even at that point, the Lakers don't fix their needs of getting tougher or younger.

Dwight Howard would improve the team, but only slightly, and at a position that's already a strength of the Lakers.

The Thunder are going to be very good for a very long time, and it's going to take the Lakers awhile to get even marginally better, let alone back to the status of being able to legitimately threaten the new champions in a series.

The only thing that the Lakers can take solace in is the fact that the name on the front of the purple & gold jerseys reads 'Lakers'.This is a proud franchise where excellence is the standard and winning is modus operandi. The Lakers will be back at some point, and fans can count on it.

The only trouble for Los Angeles faithful is that the Thunder will have a lot to say about when that time actually is.

Michael C. Jones is a Yahoo! Featured Contributor in Sports and covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA. He has written for southern California's Press-Enterprise and Examiner.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets.

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