Winners of four of their last five games, the good times are (mostly) rolling for the Los Angeles Lakers right now. They have pulled within 3.5 games of the Houston Rockets for eighth place in the Western Conference, and finally got their first huge win of the season against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Nonetheless, it's not all roses in Los Angeles now. Pau Gasol's benching, Dwight Howard's free agency and a cabal of trade rumors are still distractions lording over Mike D'Antoni's squad, which makes the Lakers' daily news cycle a must-read for any good NBA fan.
Lately, all three have come up in the news, which has forced Lakers players and the coaching staff to once again comment on stories that will never die. With that in mind, let's take a look at all the latest news and rumblings from Lakerland.
Mike D'Antoni Fires Back at Rubio
Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio has taken upon himself to stake a claim as president of the Pau Gasol fan club. In preparation for Minnesota's clash Friday night against the Lakers, Rubio candidly spoke about his Spanish national teammate with the Los Angeles Times'Eric Pincus.
Saying that Gasol would be "more than welcome" to play for the Timberwolves, Rubio criticized the Lakers for seeming like "they don't want him," per the Los Angeles Times:
It's been the last two years that it seems like they don't want him, but actually they need him. He's a great player. He can do a lot of things and he had some issues with the knees too. It's been a lot of years without resting for him. But he's a veteran. He knows how to play.
Well, Mike D'Antoni heard Rubio's quote and didn't exactly seem pleased. The Lakers coach, who has been quite candid of late, told reporters on Friday that Rubio should worry about getting a team before he criticizes, according to the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina:
Whether you agree with D'Antoni's decision to bench Gasol has been an oft-debated subject in Los Angeles of late. Gasol reminded just about everyone what he could do in a starter's role Friday night, dominating Minnesota inside to the tune of 22 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
But it's also become readily apparent that he and Dwight Howard simply don't work together on the court. It puts D'Antoni in a difficult situation, though it's arguable that the problem is more with the Lakers coach's system rather than between the two seven-footers.
If that's what Rubio was insinuating, I'm inclined to agree. As for whether D'Antoni's response was warranted, well, sometimes silence says more than the old "get your own" argument, Mike.
Howard, Bryant Speak on D12's Impending Free Agency
While Gasol has been the subject of countless trade rumors for much of the 2012-13 season, part of the reason the Spaniard hasn't been moved has been the impending free agency of Dwight Howard. The Lakers center will hit the open market this summer and has mostly non-committal about whether he'll return to the City of Angels.
That's led some to wonder whether the Lakers would take preventative measures and trade D12 before the trade deadline.
Having been through drama during his final season with the Orlando Magic, these rampant questions are nothing new for Howard. When asked by CBS Sports' Ken Berger about the trade rumors and his impending free agency, Howard went with the safest answer possible: He's just worried about winning basketball games:
I understand how people feel about it, but right now my only concern is winning. I don't want [it to be] like last season, to say something about anything -- about a team or whatever it may be -- and have people assume that I want to do this or I want to do that. Instead of making anybody assume anything, my focus is just on us winning and playing basketball. That's it.
Again, that's not exactly what you would call a commitment to sticking around past this season. While that may cause some hand-wringing in the coming months, you won't see that from Kobe Bryant, who seemed unconcerned about the possibility of Howard leaving
"Then he does," Bryant said (via CBS Sports). "The organization will always figure itself out. It always has."
Bryant's blasé attitude toward the situation shouldn't shock anyone. He and Howard haven't exactly been the best of friends this season if reports are to be believed, and the Lakers do have plenty of history on their side.
Could the Lakers survive din the long term without Howard? Of course. But losing Howard in the short-term could lead to a pretty ugly 2013-14 season.
Kobe Answers Explains Putting Jersey in His Mouth
In a Jan. 4 matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers, Bryant cold-bloodedly knocked down a 22-foot jumper to bring the Lakers within two points late in the fourth quarter. I know, where have we seen that before?
But more interesting than the shot itself was how Bryant knocked it down. While crossing over Matt Barnes to create separation and knocking down the shot, Bryant's jersey was in his mouth the entire time.
That left many fans wondering what in the blue blazes Bryant was doing. Was jersey mouth the new "Kobe Jaw"? Or was Bryant simply clowning Barnes, a man who infamously once tried to make Bryant flinch with a fake-pass toward his face?
Well, the answer is neither. Speaking with T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times, Bryant explained his jersey-sucking habit.
"It's disgusting, but my father taught me when your mouth gets dry, just suck the sweat out of your own jersey," Bryant said. "There's no bravado to any of it; it's just a disgusting little trick."
OK, then. I mean, we all knew Bryant would do anything for a competitive advantage, so this really shouldn't surprise anyone. If eating shoelaces had some sort of correlation to knocking down late-game jumpers, Bryant would be munching on them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Based on his quote, though, don't be surprised if you see high schoolers across the country dribbling up and down the court while sucking on their jerseys to emulate their hero.