Kobe Bryant's has been in the NBA long enough to know how his words will be processed. In turn, he can choose them carefully in service of a particular message. He is blunt when he wants to be (even if the content isn't as harsh as it may seem at first glance), but he is just as likely to throw a thin veil over his underlying point.
Case in point: After the Los Angeles Lakers' 108-103 loss to the lowly Toronto Raptors on January 20, Bryant passed along what appeared to be a note to general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive vice president Jim Buss, with Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com playing the role of mouthpiece.
Kobe made an indirect plea to LAL's front office: "Unless they’re going to do something roster-wise, I got to continue to push through it"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 20, 2013
Notice Kobe's media savvy here, as he leaves open room for interpretation. He's taken it upon himself to "push through it"—"it" being his struggles from the floor (18-of-57 in his last two games).
But the crux of the quote plays out as a plea to Lakers management to inject some life into what's turned out to be a miscast roster of superstars and spare parts. Clearly, Kobe's already tiring—not a good sign with 42 games left on the docket—and could use a helping hand (or two) to score from and defend the perimeter. His sterling shooting numbers have started to regress to career-average levels.
It isn't all that surprising, since he's also been tasked with defending the opposing team's best guard or wing on any given night.
It seems to be Kobe's estimation that if things are going to proceed this way with the roster as currently constructed, then the Lakers need to make some changes, and fast. The loss in the Canadian capital put the Purple and Gold into a tie for 11th place in the Western Conference, a full three-and-a-half games back of the eighth-place Houston Rockets.
Kobe's certainly not wrong to suggest that this squad could use another makeover, perhaps even one of the extreme variety. They've struggled to stop pretty much anyone this season (18th in defensive efficiency, as measured by points allowed per 100 possessions), particularly in the paint (29th in points in the paint allowed) and on the fast break (dead last in transition defense).
Furthermore, the Lakers have been anything but disruptive on that end of the floor (27th in opponent team turnover percentage) while subjecting themselves to quick strikes from the opposition (23rd in opponent points off turnovers) amid their own rash of miscues (20th in team turnover percentage).
Of course, just because Kobe's right and has expressed himself as such doesn't mean that there's much the Lakers can do to act on his wishes. They already sport an NBA-high $100 million payroll. That leaves the front office with few avenues toward substantive change. They also have nary a valuable draft pick at their disposal with which to sweeten any potential deal.
All because they spent lavishly, in terms of both money and assets, to acquire Dwight Howard and Steve Nash this past summer.
LA's best bet would've been to dangle Pau Gasol on the open market, but his particular combination of age, injuries, poor play and bloated salary have diminished his value considerably. At this point, the Lakers would probably do best to hang on to Gasol and hope he turns his season around, with an eye toward potentially moving him over the summer.
That is, unless they can somehow steal a disgruntled star (*cough*Josh Smith*cough*) from another team trapped in a downturn.
Some have suggested that the Lakers should at least entertain offers for Dwight Howard and/or Steve Nash. However, to dump Dwight would be to abandon LA's best hope for a post-Kobe baton-carrier without so much as giving themselves a shot to retain him in free agency.
Meanwhile, shopping Nash would leave head coach Mike D'Antoni up a particular creek without a Hall of Fame point guard to act as the paddle.
At this point, the Lakers are likely limited to signing minimum-salary veterans to bandage their wounds, lest they opt to employ a potential disabled player exception. The Lakers applied for the $1.78 million slot after backup big man Jordan Hill went down with a season-ending hip injury in early January. In either case, LA's options are few and of little impact.
Then again, that's how it seemed this past summer before Kupchak and company pulled a pair of blockbuster trades out of the team hat. That was also the case back in 2008, when Lakers brass turned Andrew Bynum's devastating knee injury into an opportunity to turn a package of flotsam (and Marc Gasol) into a two-time champion by way of the Pau Gasol trade.
Kobe certainly understands as much. He's borne witness to Mitch's past machinations. Perhaps that's why he's implored the organization's higher-ups to make a move—because he's seen them think big and act accordingly so many times before.
But there may not be enough fairy dust left in the pouch for the Lakers to pull off yet another miracle this time around. Doing so would require a phoenix-like resurrection from Pau and/or a shortsighted general manager who's ready, willing and able to be duped into saving the Lakers from themselves.
Kobe seems to know this, perhaps a bit too well. He can't control the weather, much less who the Lakers can pick up prior to the February 21 trade deadline and how.
Bryant's only power is over his own play and, to some extent, that of his teammates. He has no choice but to persevere through his present adversity, to be as good a sport as he can in the face of impending disappointment, if he's to have any shot at slipping on a sixth championship ring before retirement comes calling.
Which is to say, there may be plenty more disappointing defeats—and subsequently stinging commentary from Kobe—in the Lakers' immediate future.
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