L.A. Lakers Stars Care Too Much About Their Image

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L.A. Lakers Stars Care Too Much About Their Image
USA TODAY Sports

Exceptional times call for exceptional measures, and it's time for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers to take exception to their demise, not remain tranquil or reticent in their approach.

Understandably, the currently 9-14 Lakers are not in good spirits. They've lost four in a row and six of their last seven. They've also allowed 100 or more points in seven of their last eight contests.

Which means the going in Hollywood isn't easy. It also means it's time to get angry.

Los Angeles isn't going to climb out of the hole it dug itself into by remaining reserved and self-aware.

Dwight Howard shouldn't be smiling, Steve Nash shouldn't remain humble, Metta World Peace shouldn't be asking his tweeps to diagnose the Lakers' issues, and Bryant, sure as Donald Trump's hairpiece, shouldn't exude restraint on his behalf.

Simply put, even more troubling than Los Angeles' 29th-ranked transition defense and 22nd-ranked interior protection is its collective demeanor.

When I look at the Lakers, I see mostly sullen and defeated dispositions—except when I look at Howard. When I look at him, I see all smiles.

What I don't see, what none of us see, is that sense of urgency, of passion. That sense of collective accountability.

The most colorful of all Lakers displays has been Mike D'Antoni's postgame meltdown after a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Truth be told, Los Angeles needs more of that. 

Sure, Kobe and Dwight's defensive feud was an ardent display of devotion. But it was brief. Howard is now back to serenely conveying his preference that the Lakers play team defense.

Howard can stress that the Lakers need to be better defensively all he wants, but change won't come about until he acts on it.

But that's not what Los Angeles needs. It needs that fierce defensive leader that held the Black Mamba and everyone else accountable for their defensive transgressions. It needs that boisterous voice that fueled the Lakers' romping of the New Orleans Hornets.

And the same goes for Bryant. Supporting his teammates is encouraged, but accepting their shortcomings isn't. Not when the Lakers are five games below .500. Not when they can't protect the basket. And certainly not when it's time to panic.

Because it is time to panic, not time to remain steadfast in guarding your image.

I understand Howard wants to be liked—especially after the disaster in Orlando—and I certainly understand Bryant is trying to enhance his own image while preserving his legacy. But I also understand this is no time to care.

Someone needs to grab the Lakers by the jersey and carry them. Not support them statistically—Kobe has exhausted himself doing just that—but emotionally.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The Lakers need to put their words off the court into action on it.

Los Angeles is being too diffident in its quest to salvage the season. It's as if no one wants to step on anyone else's toes on a consistent basis.

Nash may be on the sidelines, but he can still be angry. He can still publicly admit that he wants to get back on the court not to simply help his teammates, but to inspire change.

Pau Gasol is no different. It's time for him to become irate, time for him to become adamant that he too will help transform this team upon his return. Not as a trade chip, but as a tactical centerpiece.

No one in Tinseltown is doing any of this, though. The Lakers are all so concerned about saving face that they appear almost publicly indifferent to what's happening.

But we know they aren't. We have seen flashes of the anger and disdain that has arisen in the wake of the team's prolonged struggles. We just haven't seen it consistently.

Bryant himself appears to be resisting the urge to explode. Just after the Lakers' loss to the New York Knicks, he essentially begged (via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports) World Peace to become more aggressive:

A lot of responsibility is going to fall on me and Pau [Gasol], but we need Metta [World Peace]. Metta has a big presence on this team. I really encourage him to take that role head on – and to be an enforcer with it. But Metta, he's done it before. We've won before together.

Is that good enough? Bryant is quick to point out that the Lakers have turned misfortunes around before, that he's seen World Peace serve as an "enforcer" before, but he's simply asking for him to be more aggressive, not demanding.

And Kobe needs to demand more of his teammates. He needs to forget about his standing in the league and do what has seemingly become natural over the years: take action.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor
Everyone on the Lakers need to start backing up their words.

Sure, Bryant has carried them offensively, but he needs to be more assertive in vocalizing his contempt. This passive version of Kobe isn't going to do much; it's not going to instill a sense of urgency within the team.

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Neither is Howard's plea that the team needs to improve defensively. He needs to realize that, despite his defensive efforts, the Lakers are allowing fewer points with him off the floor. He needs to take that to heart, dismiss his need for public acceptance and take control.

All of Los Angeles' stars do. Nash, Gasol, World Peace and D'Antoni included. 

"We're communicating," Bryant said after the loss to the Knicks. "Me and Pau, Metta and Coach D'Antoni. Steve and Dwight. We're communicating. We're going to figure this out."

The problem is, Kobe, that we know you're communicating; we know you're all talking.

But what we need to see is action. Unfiltered—not self-cognizant—action.

Otherwise, the ability to "figure this out" becomes anything but an eventual reality.

 

All stats in this article are accurate as of December 13, 2012.

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