Though most understand that factions of the Lakers' magnitude take time, Los Angeles finds itself losers of seven of their last 10 and subsequently two games out of the Western Conference's playoff picture.
New or not, decimated or not, that's simply inexcusable. A team with a payroll that exceeds nine figures and is littered with perennial All-Stars has no business playing sub-.500 basketball.
And yet, here the Lakers are, toiling with the prospect of expensive obscurity, seemingly striving for a complete implosion.
Naturally, the ever-sensitive to losing and perpetually outspoken Bryant isn't happy.
After Los Angeles' most recent loss to the pedestrian Cleveland Cavaliers, a despondent Kobe expressed his surprisingly tame frustrations to the Los Angeles Times' T.J. Simers, citing age as the fuel to the Lakers' counterproductive fire:
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's easy to get on Bryant for being so brutally honest. Acknowledging publicly that he believes the Lakers are "slow as hell" isn't going to make the team younger or faster, and it's certainly not good for collective morale.
But are we actually about to chastise the man who put up 42 points in a losing effort, who later took responsibility for his lack of ball-protection and defensive shortcomings?
Absolutely not. Los Angeles has plenty of other problems, much bigger issues that need to be addressed. Kobe's unfiltered sentiments are barely a blip on the Lakers' radar. The team has borne witness to his transgressions before, so this is actually nothing new.
Losing in excess, however, is.
It's not Bryant's harsh words that have left Los Angeles amongst the Association's bottom-feeders, it's the battery of other imperfections this convocation has.
If we truly wanted to point fingers at who and what's to blame for the Lakers' turmoil, we would need to use more than one person's worth of hands.
Los Angeles is allowing 42.8 points in the paint per game, the sixth-most in the league. That's a problem. Dwight Howard is shooting a career 48.8 percent from the foul line and has attempted just 12 or fewer shots in 14 of 22 games. That's a problem. The Lakers are down two of their best players in Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. That's a problem.
They're also allowing nearly 100 points a contest overall, committing 16.5 turnovers a night (the second-most in the league) and are 1-10 when Bryant drops 30 or more points. Those are all problems.
Oh, and perhaps the greatest conflict of all, though, is the head coach's inability to admit (via Simers) why the Lakers have one or more of these problems:
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."
D'Antoni's vexation is clearly evident, but he cannot afford to lose his composure. He also can't afford to not have any of the answers. Caroming open shots off the back of the rim is on the players, but failure to inspire or instill a sense of urgency within those players are on him.
Better yet, Bryant's candidness is on him to a certain extent as well. Kobe was one of D'Antoni's biggest supporters coming, yet now he has been reduced to uttering painstaking ambiguities.
"This is the most challenging stretch that I've been in (in) my 17 years," Bryant said ((via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News). "Most baffling too."
Nothing about what his happening in Los Angeles is OK, nothing about what has transpired can be pardoned. Injuries to Gasol and Nash undoubtedly impede the Lakers' execution, but not to the point of irrelevance. This is a team that still has a healthy Bryant and healthy-as-can-be-expected Howard to lean on.
Which means this is no time for excuses; it's time for admittance.
It's time for someone, for everyone other than Bryant, to accept responsibility for their part in Los Angeles' demise gradual demise. It's time for Howard to assert himself more on both ends of the floor, time for the team as a whole to perfect their spacing and time for D'Antoni to find the answers he doesn't have.
And yeah, there will come a time for Kobe to stop perpetuating the negativity with sarcastic condescension and his sully demeanor.
But silencing Bryant isn't the Lakers' primary concern right now.
Not when it's a needle in a heaping haystack of problems. Not when the Lakers are giving up the second-most points (16.2) in transition per game.
Not when D'Antoni refuses to concretely diagnose what is ailing his team.
And most certainly not when he's the only one who's providing any insight.
Not when he's the only one who's talking at all.
All stats in this article are accurate as of December 11, 2012.
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