CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It hasn't looked as if the Lakers will soon add one of those golden trophies to the window sill that overlooks their practice court.
Whether it's the slow return of an aging superstar or Pau Gasol's hot-and-cold play (mostly cold), there haven't been any indicators of a 17th NBA championship and ensuing parade snaking through downtown Los Angeles in June.
"I want to win a championship," he said. "I want to be playing in June."
Insert … jokes … now. Is Bryant being traded to San Antonio? Are the Lakers acquiring LeBron James?
The answers are obvious, but Bryant felt pretty good about his effort against Charlotte. It was easily the best of his four games back from a torn Achilles' tendon.
He had 21 points on eight-for-15 shooting and eight assists, though his turnovers (seven) continued to be a problem.
He was a defensive presence as well, helping run Ben Gordon into a wild off-balance three-point shot with 2.5 seconds left and the Lakers up three points.
Then Bryant's eyes witnessed the same thing as everyone else at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Yes, that was Gasol blocking the shot of Al Jefferson, who took the rebound with one second left and tried to put in a layup. The Bobcats would have lost by one even if Jefferson scored, but Gasol was allowed a burst of emotion at the end of a frenetic week, thumping his chest with his right fist.
The Lakers' old-timers, combining for big defensive plays in the final seconds. Who knew?
Bryant wasn't delusional, though. He knows that teams with an 11-12 record and significantly smaller payroll than usual don't go sauntering into mid-June.
"Obviously, we have some improvements to make, whether it's with the guys that we have in the locker room or whatever the management wants to do," he said. "It's not my job to focus on that. It's my job to focus on what we have and making sure we make the necessary improvements every day to get there."
The trade deadline is Feb. 20. The Lakers will have a very good idea at that time whether to punt (trade Gasol?) or make a pitch for some help.
That they barely beat Charlotte (10-14) should be noted. Yet, they beat Charlotte without any healthy point guards and any semblance of an offense other than a Gasol-Bryant two-man game.
Coach Mike D'Antoni even acknowledged as much beforehand.
"I don't even know what we're doing yet. We're in a transitional period right now, so I can't really explain what we're doing," he said.
He was joking but he was also serious. Scouting the Lakers can't be easy right now. Exactly what are they?