For Kobe Bryant, Lakers’ woes are question of characters
CLEVELAND — A rattled and clueless Mike D’Antoni, asked whether this latest Lakers’ debacle against a Cleveland team with only four wins was embarrassing, said: “No.
“It’s basketball. I hate it. I’m down. But I’m not embarrassed … that’s a harsh word. I’m not embarrassed.”
A few minutes later the same question was put to Kobe Bryant, and “yes,” he said, he was embarrassed.
“This is the toughest stretch, the most challenging stretch in my 17 years for sure,” said Bryant while sitting calmly in front of his locker taking on all questions.
“It kind of gets like that Mr. Magoo syndrome (or Joe Btfsplk from Li’l Abner); the clouds just following you around all the time. To break that you have to be extremely determined to change momentum.”
Is Kobe upset?
“I’m very upset, and in the past I would blow my top and go crazy,” he said. “Then I had a head coach [Phil Jackson] who always kept calm and I learned from that.
“I’m trying to do the same thing here, but I won’t lie; they’re messing with my Zen stuff.”
How low is low, and there the great Lakers franchise sits right now, the coach’s most often repeated explanation, “I don’t know why.”
The Lakers lost to Cleveland, 100-94, and D’Antoni, while mentioning the Lakers might need to search for some heart, said, “We put ourselves in a hole, I thought, by playing very uninspired basketball offensively and defensively.”
Why would the Lakers play uninspiring basketball at a time when they should be hopping mad to show they are better?
“I don’t know why, that’s a good question,” said D’Antoni. And when advised the Lakers were paying him to have those answers, he said, “Obviously not enough.”
I’m not sure the headline “D’Antoni Seeks Raise” is going to play well right now.
Does he have any words for disappointed Lakers fans?
“You tell them, or you write for Cleveland so you don’t count,” said D’Antoni, and while that might be wishful thinking on his part, he was obviously rattled.
“It’s the medication,” he said, but then he would become angry.
When I suggested the Lakers have defensive woes and yet they only watched video and horsed around on the court in a 35-minute morning shoot-around, D’Antoni disagreed. And strongly.
“That’s not true,” said D’Antoni. “Hell yeah, we worked on [defense] for a half hour. You’re starting to piss me off because you say something that isn’t factually correct. We work on defense all the time.”
Kobe said later, “I’ll give the calmer response. Our defense wasn’t bad. We talked about it [at the shoot-around] and we knew the rotations we wanted to make.”
But in so many other ways they appeared clueless. The great waste here was Bryant playing as well as ever at a time when you would expect him to slow down.
“It’s extremely, extremely frustrating,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re too old and it takes us a long time to get started and lathered up. It seems like we got the Scooby-Doo syndrome where it takes you like five seconds.…"
“It seems like you’ve been watching a lot of cartoons lately,” I said by way of interruption.
“Something has to keep me in a good mood,” he said with a chuckle.
As for what ails the Lakers, he said turnovers — “and I’ve got to do a better job of that myself” — and transition defense are the two biggest culprits.
“Last year we got beat in the playoffs by transition points and this year it’s still an Achilles’ heel for us. I don’t know if we’re too slow of a team and we got to change things up a little bit and play a slower game. I don’t know the answer.”
That’s what we are getting out of D’Antoni? Is it as simple as waiting for the return of Pau Gasol and Steve Nash?
“No,” Bryant said. “Those issues are still there. With Steve and Pau there in the lineup we still didn’t win a preseason game. Pau isn’t the fastest guy in the world and neither is Steve.
“Actually, we’re slow as hell. I’m one of the fastest guys on the team and I’m like 50.”
Bryant said D’Antoni is “savvy and smart enough” to make adjustments, but it’s not apparent he can do so without Nash in uniform.
But with Bryant and Dwight Howard on the same floor, how do the Lakers lose to a team such as the Cavaliers?
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Bryant said.
Is the Lakers’ supporting cast up to the task of complementing the play of Bryant and Howard? Bryant was 16 for 28 for 42 points, while everyone else was a combined 15 for 47.
“Not right now, but it’s my job to be as perfect as I can be, and if they are not playing well I have to minimize my mistakes,” said Bryant, who led the team with five turnovers.
Bryant sat patiently before his locker, his legs in ice until his timer went off sounding like a distress signal.
“That’s apropos, no question,” said Bryant. The Lakers’ next assignment is in New York against a team that has not lost at home.
Twenty minutes after speaking to the media, Bryant sent word he wanted to talk to me again.
“I was thinking about it when I took my shower,” he said, while going into details about how Batman was overmatched, but the valet inspired Batman in one of the “Dark Knight” movies.
The guy obviously has a lot of spare time on his hands.
“You see teams play that might be less talented but they are playing with conviction and belief,” Bryant said. “You go through tough stretches and start to question whether you really are a championship team.
“We have to find that power of belief,” he said. Maybe Batman’s valet is better suited to get the Lakers going now than a coach who admits to having no answers.
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