Reporting from Phoenix — This was like listening to a conversation in code, without the subtitles to translate their true meaning.
Whatever the subtext, Kobe Bryant's voluntary and vehement insistence that the Lakers' management owes Pau Gasol some clarity on persistent trade rumors is likely to have more impact on the team's future than the game-high 32 points Bryant scored Sunday in a forgettable 102-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center.
Equally interesting was Andrew Bynum's suggestion that his knees would have benefited more from rest than from getting a workout in the team's Sunday shootaround, and he might have had a point. The lessons didn't sink in, because the Suns scored 35 points in the first quarter and 63 in the first half en route to only the sixth 100-point game against the new, defensively diligent Lakers this season.
Coupled with Bynum's pointed reminder that Coach Mike Brown left him on the bench for most of the Lakers' failed third-quarter comeback — "I wasn't any part of that, but I was rooting for my teammates," Bynum said — a distinct air of frustration overpowered the scent of damp towels in the Lakers' locker room Sunday.
Was Bryant trying to initiate a power struggle or reacting to a baffling, inconsistent performance against a team the Lakers had beaten by 12 points at home Friday?
"We're a great defensive team. You didn't see that tonight until the second half," Bryant said, referring to the Lakers' belated clamp-down that limited the Suns to 39 second-half points.
Was Bynum making a reasonable point or pouting after being taken out, a decision Brown could defend better than Bynum defended Marcin Gortat?
And who is Marcin Gortat and why did he have 21 points and 15 rebounds against the Lakers, his third double-double against them in three games this season?
"Gortat was going to the rim, getting a lot of buckets," Bynum said. "I guess he felt that was my responsibility, so I just got out of the game. That's really it. It's tough."
Not as tough as figuring out what is happening with the Lakers, who are 5-11 on the road. After facing Portland on Monday at Staples Center, they will head out of town again for back-to-back games at Dallas on Wednesday and Oklahoma City on Thursday.
Throw in the fact that they got two points Sunday out of their point guards — Derek Fisher had none in just over 18 minutes and Steve Blake had one field goal in 29 minutes — and there's reason to question where they're headed.
Not to mention if Gasol is headed elsewhere after escaping that fate when the NBA rejected the three-way trade that would have sent him to Houston, Lamar Odom to New Orleans and Chris Paul from New Orleans to the Lakers.
"I believe in our team, I believe in our city and I believe that we can continue to be a special team and a successful team," he said.
But he might not be part of it, if those trade rumors come true before the March 15 deadline.
Bryant made it clear that he wants Gasol to stay and that the Lakers are good enough to win again.
"I'm sure we'll make some tweaks here and there, but the foundation is here," Bryant said, adding that Gasol is one of the "pillars" of the team.
Basketball, Bryant said, "is an emotional game" and he seemed to imply management is toying with Gasol's emotions by leaving him in limbo. Gasol, who said he hadn't spoken at length with General Manager Mitch Kupchak since the Paul trade was blocked, said he was unsure if he would approach Kupchak on Monday for some clarity.
"Obviously, there's a lot of rumors, a lot of talks. And teams that seem to continue to make offers and they're listening," Gasol said. "Otherwise, those offers wouldn't be out there....
"If I own a player or if a player plays for my team and I say, 'Look, I'm not interested in doing anything because I value my player and want to keep him here,' then all that stops. But it seems that it's not that way. That's the feeling that I get. I haven't really confirmed it, but from the situation and now the talks, that's what I perceive."
Is perception reality? Another of the many questions the Lakers must answer this season.