It’s been one thing after another for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
The beginning of the year saw a 1-4 start, a coaching change and an obvious lack of chemistry on a roster that underwent several changes in the offseason. Consider it all a result of lofty expectations.
Those expectations have created crushing pressure in Los Angeles, made evident by the swirling trade rumors involving Paul Gasol and Dwight Howard, both of which were shot down by Mitch Kupchak earlier this week (via the Los Angeles Times).
Something needs to change.
Kobe Bryant has done all he can to loosen the screws and keep the pressure off his team this season. He’s taking control of the offense by becoming a facilitator—perhaps the only thing that is keeping the Lakers above water right now. At 23-26, “above water” is a relative term.
Kobe is feeling the stress, and he’s starting to push the sense of urgency on Howard, as quoted by Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:
We don't have time for [Howard's shoulder] to heal. We need some urgency. [Dwight] has never been in a position where someone is driving him as hard as I am, as hard as this organization is. It's win a championship or everything is a complete failure. That's just how we [the Lakers] do it. And that's foreign to him.
It’s not unusual for Bryant to push his teammates when necessary, and this is just another example of the five-time champion doing whatever he can to ensure his team comes out a winner. The latest news on Gasol won’t make that task any easier.
Gasol will be out for the foreseeable future with a foot injury he sustained Tuesday night (via the Los Angeles Times). As if the trade rumors and scrutiny of a team failing to meet expectations weren’t enough, Los Angeles is now faced with added injury concerns and a lineup lacking a big presence in the paint.
Howard has to get healthy and resume his role as the Lakers’ dominant presence around the basket. It isn’t as if he doesn’t want to be healthy, but he may be putting that concern ahead of a team that needs him at this point in the season.
Howard didn’t seem happy with Bryant’s remarks, and as quoted by Tom Layman of the Boston Herald, he seems to be more concerned with his career than the fortunes of the Lakers this season:
Yeah I want to play. Why wouldn’t I want to play? At the same time, this is my career, this is my future, this is my life. I can’t leave that up to anybody else because nobody else is going to take care of me. People are (ticked) off that I don’t play or I do play, whatever it may be, so what. This is my career. If I go down, then everybody’s life is going to go on. I don’t have to have another summer where I’m rehabbing and trying to get healthy again. I want to come back and have another great year. That’s what I want to do.
Howards’ health concerns aside, there’s no denying pressure is mounting in Los Angeles. Bryant knows that, and he’s doing everything he can to make sure it doesn’t devour his team. Whether Howard liked the comments or not, the writing on the wall is becoming more clear.
The Lakers have a chance to turn their season around, but the window of opportunity is closing quickly. With Gasol on the shelf, Howard dinged up and pressure continuing to build, there isn’t much time to be considering the future past this season.