CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It hasn't looked as if the
Whether it's the slow return of an aging superstar or
"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
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
Then Bryant's eyes witnessed the same thing as everyone else at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Yes, that was Gasol blocking the shot of
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.
"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?
Gasol shot horribly, missing 12 of 18 tries on the way to 15 points. He also had six turnovers.
"I can't throw him the ball if he ain't got no thumbs," Bryant said, smiling.
Gasol promised to keep a closer eye on weak-side defenders.
"Fool me twice, it's on me, right?" he said. "Can't afford those six turnovers."
That he did it on the second night of consecutive games made it more notable, even though he played only 23 minutes Friday in the Lakers' 122-97 loss to Oklahoma City.
But, really, the Lakers as champions with Gasol and him as cornerstones? Worth a redirect at Bryant.
"Every year, you have to feel like you have to prove yourself," he said. "You have to try to find that edge and find that motivation. We certainly have it right there in front of us."