LOS ANGELES (AP) -Although the 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 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 Tuesday night, 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 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum at center and 7-0 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, a 250-pounder, 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.''
Sidelined since Jan. 13 by a knee injury and ensuing surgery, Bynum was averaging 13.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.06 blocks and was shooting a league-high 63.6 percent from the floor when he went up for a rebound and came down on teammate Lamar Odom's foot.
The freak injury occurred as Bynum, still a pro basketball baby at 20, seemed to be rapidly coming of age. He is expected to be ready to go by the start of next season.
Watching the finals from the sidelines was painful for him.
``Definitely want to be able to go out there and play, help your teammates out,'' he said after the Lakers lost the opening game. ``Not being able to do that kind of stinks, especially when you lose by a little bit like we did last time. You lose by rebounds, blocked shots, turnovers; people walking down getting layups and that's a big part of my job as a center.''
Odom hopes Bynum's return will make a big difference.
``Obviously, we really don't know because we haven't all played together, but with Gasol and Bynum down there with the players that we have, I'm pretty sure it will,'' Odom said.
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. ``We are going to work really hard. We want to win it. We lost our first finals and I think we have a lot more to go.''
Looking ahead, although Bryant didn't have a stellar series in the finals, he's the regular-season MVP and still arguably the best in the game. He, Gasol and Bynum conceivably could be the next ``Big Three.''
And they'll be around for a while.
Bryant turns 30 on Aug. 23 and Gasol's 28th birthday is next month. Derek Fisher, 33, was the only Los Angeles regular over 30 in the series against the Celtics. Boston's Garnett and Ray Allen will be 33 at finals time next year, and Paul Pierce will be 31.
Since the Lakers' season began in turmoil, with Bryant calling the team's front office ``a mess'' and asking to be traded, their turnaround and trip to the finals was unexpected.
Jackson called the Lakers' season a ``remarkable'' one.
``We suffered injuries and survived a season and rebuilt our team and came back and had a great playoff run until the Celtics were able to extinguish that hope,'' he said.
``But we'll look back on this favorably. We were surprised we were here, and we're glad that we had an opportunity. But whenever you get this opportunity, you don't want to let it slip away, and we did.''
While Jackson said the Lakers need to acquire some players if they are going to return to the finals, Bryant - who essentially had demanded last summer that he get some help - said no shakeup is necessary.
``No, we're fine. I think what we have to do is continue to work. That's really the key, understanding that this isn't guaranteed to anybody. There are people who have gotten here before and never gotten back, so it's important for us to understand that, to work hard and come back next year ready to go,'' Bryant said.
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