Angry Kobe doesn't make for happy times for Lakers

Kobe is mad at everyone, although we can't say for sure if this includes himself.

He's not very good about elaborating.

He went like five or six days without talking to the media. The only exception was his "nope" to The Times' Mike Bresnahan when asked whether he'd like to discuss his ejection against Milwaukee.

When he did speak, it was after the game with Miami. He made it clear he was very upset. He just didn't say where his anger was directed.

Was he upset at Phil Jackson?

"I have no idea," the coach said before Tuesday night's game with the San Antonio Spurs.

Any idea what he's grousing about?

"I think he's grousing about the fact we didn't compete very well."

Does that include Kobe? Do you think he competed?

"He tried," Jackson said. "Some of it is frustration coming out at the end of a game."

It's difficult to say when Kobe is really mad because he always looks mad. This time he went so far as to practice with his teammates. So he had to be really ticked.

But after another maddening Lakers loss Tuesday night, I sensed progress. He had tried to feed off his anger, but had flopped.

"Have you ever thought about playing with a little bit more fun in your game?" I said.

"Yup," Kobe said. "Sure."

"So why haven't you gone that route?" I said.

"It's an effort," he said. "I'll try."

He was so mad early against the Spurs, he ignored his teammates. He scored a quick eight points, every time the ball hitting his hands only a matter of a second or two before he shot.

Later he would go on to miss 13 consecutive shots.

"In hindsight," I said, "when you came out and took control of the game, was that the right move?"

"Nope," he said, and now we were really rolling.

Another Times reporter chimed in. "Because you weren't hitting shots?"

"Yep," he said, and I think Kobe has a problem with that muckraker. He might even be mad at him.

What happened next stunned veteran followers of the Lakers, Kobe holding himself accountable for missed shots and the loss to the Spurs.

"I just got to put the ball in the damn hole," he said. "That's my responsibility, that's my job."

Now as for the loss to the Spurs, Kobe said, "I'm just pissed."

"That doesn't mean you're going to play mad [against New Orleans] does it?" I said with just the right amount of concern.

"I don't know," Kobe said. "I've been playing mad as long as you have been writing mad."

"You see, we have so much in common," I said, but unfortunately I cannot print his response. I thought about telling him I'm not always mad, but I couldn't be sure he wasn't a UCLA fan.

Anyway, for the longest time folks around the NBA have feared Kobe when he gets mad.

Mike Monroe, writing for the San Antonio Express-News, reported Tuesday morning, "Bryant may still be angry that his teammates haven't seemed as focused as he believes appropriate, but it is the Spurs who should fear his pique."

I would fear a "pique" too, especially if I knew what it was.

Monroe went on to write, "Few competitors in all of sports are more dangerous than Bryant when he is intent on atoning for personal disappointment and demanding his teammates match his intensity."

That raises an interesting question: Is such legendary NBA lore still valid? When Kobe gets really mad, does he still have what it takes to feed off it and raise his game?

"That's how you win championships," Kobe said, and holding up his hand, he can make a very convincing argument it has.

But it didn't work against the Spurs, his crazy go-mad play to start the game taking his teammates out of the game, most notably Pau Gasol.

It was one on five, just like old times. Kobe scored eight of the team's first 10 points, and yet he was still upset.

He was jawing with the referees. Then he punched Spurs defender George Hill in the gut, drawing a foul.

With five minutes remaining in the first quarter, Kobe on a rampage, the Spurs led, 17-16. One against five and now five was winning.

I remember games when he takes on the role of facilitator. Boring. So where's the middle ground?

Against the Spurs, he's so single-minded, he just keeps shooting. Twenty-seven shots for the game. Apparently, he doesn't know the Lakers are 16-3 when he takes less than 20 shots.

Jackson put him on the bench when he continued to misfire, no doubt stewing while sitting. He returned to pick up a technical foul, his fourth in the last three games.

Maybe there is a case to be made that intensity separates Kobe from everyone else in the game. But not when it sends him spinning out of control.

It has always been a mystery why there isn't more joy to Kobe's game. It seems like he specializes in distancing himself from people. Even Jackson smiled and said, "don't ask me," when asked why Kobe goes his own way with the ball at times.

Whatever his attitude now, it's not working. Maybe it's only a week or two, and mad eventually wins out. Maybe he drops a smile on New Orleans, and the Hornets keel over.

It just might be the Lakers' best chance to win.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World