L.A. Lakers Can Only Come Together with Brutal Honesty

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 23, 2013

January 4, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni speaks to shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) during a stoppage in play against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni resorted to some brutal—if not overly dramatic and somewhat misdirected—honesty after his team's embarrassing loss to the Washington Wizards on March 22, and even though the tirade came off like some kind of desperate spectacle, a little bit of frank talk might be the only way for the Lakers to finally come together.

After all, they've tried just about everything else.

Lineup tinkering didn't work. Neither did shifting Kobe Bryant into the role of the facilitator, while taking Steve Nash away from the ball.

Sure, some of the tweaks have shown temporary benefits. But the Lakers now seem to be right back where they started: losing games they shouldn't and searching for answers.

The reasons for L.A.'s cyclical rises and falls this season are pretty simple, and D'Antoni pegged them in his over-the-top rant: L.A doesn't defend with purpose and Bryant's penchant for "Hero Ball" keeps cropping up at the worst times.

Per Dave McMenamin of ESPN, D'Antoni said:

What happened was we didn't play hard enough. We think we can just figure stuff out. Trevor Ariza's got 12 attempts at 3s and he's wide open. That's inexcusable. It's just a matter of lapses or gambling or, 'I'm not going to play hard tonight because we'll just outscore them.' That why we dug ourselves a hole in the first part of the year and now we're digging it again.

Taking the Wizards game as an example, it's abundantly clear that those two issues are at the heart of the Lakers' latest disappointing stretch.

Rotations were late or nonexistent, opposing three-point shooters were often ignored and, in one-on-one situations, the Lakers played without any fight at all. And that was just on defense.

Bryant's 4-of-10 performance in the final period marked a notable shift from the team's dominant offensive performance in the first quarter. L.A. piled up 35 points in the opening 12 minutes against the Wizards, using 10 assists to get there.

Contrast that with the isolation-heavy sets the Lakers turned to in the late stages, and it's no wonder things fell apart.

And here's where honesty is supposed to come in. Though to hear Antawn Jamison tell it, it already has. The Lakers forward told ESPN's Max and Marcellus Show that Bryant actually implores his teammates to speak frankly to him about his tunnel vision at the end of games:

He's like, 'Look, you guys as my teammates, yell at me. Let me know that you're open because I'm so programmed,' and this guy has told me this, 'I see nothing but that basket. You could be open, there could be three guys on me, but the only thing I see is that basket so you have to tell me, Look, I was open. Or yell at me mid-play. That doesn't affect me at all and I respect that.'

It's worth noting that this revelation from Jamison took place on March 20, which was two days before the Lakers' loss to Washington.

Apparently, Bryant's teammates either stayed silent or they failed to get his attention.

That shouldn't really be a surprise, though, as the most honest moments of the Lakers' season haven't amounted to much. That could be because a lot of the team's blunt discussions have been tinged with machismo or hidden behind the veil of subtle sniping.

Remember the "alpha-dog" discussion between Howard and Bryant earlier this year? How about Bryant's not-so-subtle dig at his teammate's unwillingness to play in pain?

Those could technically be considered efforts at honesty, albeit petty and counterproductive ones.

Honesty is going to be important for the Lakers over the season's final few weeks. But what D'Antoni might be overlooking is the fact that he might be the one who needs to take a long look at what's going wrong.

When there's a systemic failure of motivation and no discernible scheme in place to fix it, shouldn't the coach be the one to blame?

The truth hurts, and for the Lakers coach, a painfully honest look at himself might be the only way to help the Lakers come together before it's too late.