Barely a game into Kobe Bryant's return, Mike D'Antoni and the Black Mamba are already at odds.
The Los Angeles Lakers went 10-9 in a loaded Western Conference without their star shooting guard, remaining within postseason striking distance. Asked about his team's success without him, Bryant downplayed the significance of Los Angeles' record.
"It's not like we were gangbusters before," he said, according to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin.
Ouch. Who poured hot gravy down the Mamba's warm-ups?
ESPN projected the Lakers to finish 10 games under .500 this season, a forecast Bryant himself took exception to. How is he devaluing a winning record achieved without him?
Naturally, D'Antoni disagreed.
"I have to disagree with that," Magic Mike explained, via McMenamin. "We were 6-2 in the last eight [games before Bryant's return] and I thought we played extremely well, winning three [in a row] on the road. ... So, that's not quite right. I'm really proud of what the guys did."
As he should be.
Bryant is likely proud as well. Again, how could he not be? Voicing his satisfaction is simply asking too much.
The perfectionist in him probably expected more, though. Anything less than a flawless record wouldn't please him entirely.
Remember, this is the same Bryant who was hard on himself following a season debut. Nearly eight months had past since he last played, yet he still felt it pertinent to give himself an "F," according to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin.
"Right now my form is a horse's a-- form," he said of his on-court demeanor, per McMenamin.
Few players would have been pleased after going 2-of-9 from the floor for nine points and eight turnovers, but most would have given themselves some leeway under these circumstances. Bryant is working his way back from a ruptured Achilles, and it was never going to come together for him right away.
Still, there he was after the game, his own biggest critic. While he later changed his tune on his performance, saying it "wasn't as bad as I thought it was," the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan and Melissa Rohlin, you get the point. He expects more out of himself, just like he expects more out of his teammates.
Outside of his own little, sometimes twisted sense of reality, though, there is a Lakers outfit that has exceeded expectations.
Heading into their game against the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers had navigated the fourth-toughest schedule in the league, most of which was played through without Bryant. Where they could have folded, they fought. That's admirable.
In an ultra-competitive Western Conference that puts the Eastern Conference to shame, it's also amazing.
The West is teeming with contenders and the Lakers could have easily fallen out of the playoff picture by now. Instead, following a loss to the Toronto Raptors in Bryant's debut, they're a mere game out. For now, that's impressive enough.
Think about it: This is a team that not only lost Bryant, but also Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, their two best defenders. It persevered through the lackluster play of Pau Gasol and Steve Nash's absence and still kept its head above .500.
This is a team, a largely uncelebrated Lakers team, Bryant should be proud of.
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