Kobe Opens Up About Losing, Mike D'Antoni, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and More

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 09: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers walks off the court after the game against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on December 9, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  The Jazz won 117-110.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant isn't one to remain silent, especially when the Los Angeles Lakers are losing.

Well, the Lakers are losing, and Bryant has been anything but quiet. 

Losing is not what he, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash or anyone else had in mind when Los Angeles formed the NBA's newest and, theoretically, most potent super-team. Winning a championship, however, was.

But right now, the Lakers are not contenders. Instead, they are four games under .500 for the first time since the 2004-05 campaign and attempting to stave off the notion that they are no longer a threat to win it all. 

As forthcoming as Bryant has been, though, we have been restricted to monitoring snippets of his postgame reactions to go along with his actions on the court.

Until now.

Earlier today, Kobe sat down with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith and talked everything Lakers. And boy, did he have a lot to say.


Kobe on Losing

When Smith asked how Kobe Bryant would explain why the Lakers are playing they way they are, he offered the following:

"You can make a lot of excuses. But none of them are sufficient enough. Our lack of getting back in transition, turnovers and just miscues that we've had that have been costing us ball games."

Smith then implored Kobe to be more specific, which he was:

"Our transition defense is our Achilles heel. It was our Achilles heel last year and it's been our Achilles heel this year. Whether that's because of defensive balance or lack of speed or both, teams are really taking advantage of us."

Kobe then touched upon Magic Johnson's latest sentiments that the Lakers are currently playing the wrong style of basketball:

"I think that kind of remains to be seen in terms of how we are going to play in the system, in the up-and-down system. Steve"s (Nash) is not in the offense, he's the conductor of the offense, he's the one that's orchestrating it."

"Are we the fastest team in the league? Not even close. But you necessarily have to have speed to be an effective running team."

How exactly does Bryant believe that? Well that brought him to the Lakers' coach, Mike D'Antoni.


Kobe on Mike D'Antoni

When elaborating on what he meant about not needing to be a fast team for the Lakers to succeed within this system, Bryant opened up plenty about D'Antoni:

"I think Mike D (D'Antoni) is a very, very talented offensive coach," Bryant said. "I think that he's not a man that's stuck doing it one particular way. If it's not working, I'm sure he's open to mixing things up."

Naturally, Smith had to find out if this was Kobe's opinion, or if he knew for a fact that D'Antoni was, in fact, open-minded:

"Oh, I know that," Kobe offered. "He (D'Antoni) wants to be successful more than anything. It's not just about implementing his system."

"The end-goal is to win a championship," Bryant continued. "It's not playing a certain way."


Kobe on Pau Gasol

After touching upon D'Antoni's willingness to adjust his personnel, the topic of Pau Gasol was broached.

Three games into D'Antoni's tenure, he benched Gasol in the fourth quarter, which subsequently became somewhat of a habit. Doubts then arose as to whether or not Gasol could succeed under D'Antoni.

Bryant offered his own insight on the matter.

"It's tough for Pau," Bryant said. "Since we won our second championship against the Celtics...that next season and every season after that, he has kind of been an afterthought for whatever reason."

"The following year we moved Andrew (Bynum) into that second slot," Kobe continued. "And then after that, obviously now it's Dwight (Howard). And Pau, I'm sure, is a little frustrated."

"He believes we won two championships playing through him and now, he finds himself on the perimeter. So I'm sure it's a bit of a shell-shock for him, having to make some of those adjustments."

Once Bryant mentioned adjustments, Smith took the opportunity to ask the Mamba if he endorsed those adjustments. 

Kobe made it clear that he didn't.

"Nah, he needs to be in the post more," he said. "For sure."

Bryant feels so strongly about Gasol being in the paint more, in fact, that he admitted he had actually spoken with coach D'Antoni about it.

"We spoke about that," Bryant said. "When he (Gasol) gets back," he'll be in his sweet-spots for sure."

Smith then left the topic of Gasol only to return to it later. He continued to ask much of the same questions before bluntly inquiring whether or not Bryant believed Gasol was actually important to the Lakers' future.

"I think he's the key to the whole thing," Kobe asserted.

No longer must we wonder whether Bryant endorses his towering teammate.

Because clearly he does.


Kobe on Dwight Howard

With Bryant so sure that Gasol would be getting more touches where he is most comfortable, Smith took the opportunity to transition the conversation towards Howard and how he has performed thus far.

It's only fitting that Smith began by picking Kobe's brain about Dwight's free-throw shooting, since it's been horrendous, even by his standards. 

Keeping with the "I have faith in this team" mantra, Bryant offered some positive sentiments on the foul-line woes that have been plaguing Howard.

"Well, I think you have to look at both of us," Kobe said. "His free-throw shooting has been poor, but as the two guys who are kind of driving this team, one thing we can do is minimize our mistakes."

Now, here's a new side of Bryant we haven't seen before.

He had the opportunity to ride on the coattails of Howard's failures, but instead defended his teammate, acknowledging that the big man's foul-shooting is not the only problem this team has.

"His (Dwight) free-throw shooting hasn't been very well," Bryant explained. "My turnovers have been too high."

"We have to try to shore those things up," he continued. "It's his responsibility to take care of the line when he's fouled. It's his responsibility to step up there and knock them down. It's my responsibility to take care of the ball, especially because we're a poor transition defensive team."

With all that said, Smith pressed Kobe to move beyond his essential deflection. He wanted to know if Bryant was pleased with what he has seen from Howard thus far.

"I have been," he said. "I think it's been tough for him. This summer he wasn't able to do much, so his conditioning is not where he wants it to be. I think that leads to a little bit of frustration."

"He's not as explosive as he used to be, his stamina is not where he wants it to be and it gets to be a little frustrating for him at times."

"But he's working extremely hard before practice, after practice, before games—he's driving himself to get there."


Kobe on the team's potential

Throughout the course of the interview, Bryant remained defensive of D'Antoni, Gasol and Howard. Perplexing, to say the least. 

As Smith himself notes, we've seen an extremely frustrated (bordering on irate) Kobe the last few games. And if it's not D'Antoni, Howard, Gasol or the system in general, then what is it?

"It's about the results," Bryant clarified. "It's about us not winning games."

"There are areas where we're deficient at," he continued. "Transition defense and obviously turning the ball over. Those are things that we have to take care of."

So, can Los Angeles turn it around? 

"We're going to get this thing done; we're going to turn this thing around, Kobe postured. "And it has to be a group thing."

But can it be a "group thing?" Do the Lakers have the roster necessary to turn this "thing" around?

"I think the roster's fine," Bryant said. "I really do."

That last part got Smith going. He urged Kobe to explain why it is he has so much faith in this team.

Why is he still so sure that the Lakers can right their ship? Why does he believe in the supposedly out-of-shape Howard? Why does he still believe in Gasol?

Knowing all of the problems that currently plague his team, does he actually still feel comfortable with this roster?

"I do feel comfortable with it," he said simply.

"I like what we have there. It's just finding the balance of how are we going to play to best maximize all of those talents as a group."

"But I don't want to overreact to the record that we're having. It has been a pretty crazy year."

Indeed, it has been a crazy year in Hollywood. It's been a doleful one, in fact.

But Bryant still believes. From the coaches to the players to the system and the tweaks this team has to make, Kobe believes.

And he's willing to convert that belief into patience.

"I think I'm doing a pretty good job sitting on my lily-pad and meditating through this process," he said.

Even in the darkest of hours, the Lakers can take solace in that.

Because, in their quest to restore faith, garnering the support of their infamously honest franchise player may prove to be half the battle.



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