Kobe Trying to Turn Randle's Injury, Lakers' Struggles into Bonding Experience

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterOctober 30, 2014

USA Today

PHOENIX — Byron Scott told reporters Tuesday night that Julius Randle was in tears in a private room at Staples Center after breaking his leg in his very first NBA game. Scott elaborated Wednesday night, saying he was "basically holding him [Randle] and just listening to him cry."

You might view publicizing all that to be uncouth on Scott's part, making the kid look weak or committing some violation of the man code.   

Well, here's what Kobe Bryant told Randle about that:

"Get it out your system just like I did. Get it out of your system with a nice hard cry. Then it's time to go from there."

Crying? It's cool.

And it's funny how things can appear so completely one way and then surprise you.

The Los Angeles Lakers are a mess after two games, sage veteran Steve Nash and future hope Randle are out for the season within a week of each other, and Bryant is openly annoyed.

"Getting your butt kicked a little bit, the frustration boils over, naturally," Bryant said after the Lakers' 119-99 loss in Phoenix.

Just when you start to wonder, though, if Bryant will soon be reminiscing about the fun days he spent with Kwame Brown and Jumaine Jones and reflecting on Smush Parker and Chucky Atkins as winners because the current Lakers are so bad, Bryant leaves all of that out on the court.

Oct 29, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant reacts as he wears an ice pack on his right shoulder as he sits on the bench prior to the game against the Phoenix Suns during the home opener at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the
USA TODAY Sports

Sitting in front of his locker, his feet in an ice bath and the knees in ice packs, and with his right shoulder getting its own wrap because it's already sore, Bryant refused to lose himself in the negativity.

Bryant and Nash will never become the greatest backcourt in NBA history, and of more immediate relevance, how is Bryant supposed to pass the Lakers' torch to Randle now that Randle is carrying that rod and those screws in his lower right leg?

It was actually Nash who throughout the Lakers' disastrous 2012-13 season tried to explain the team missing a kinship that blossoms only through shared experiences. So many new perspectives and distracting injuries...and Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni utterly failed at getting the guys to comprehend events together through one collective lens.

Just when Randle's injury meant there was no way for Bryant to mentor him on the court, here are Bryant and Randle now bonding through their recent misfortunes.

Bryant said he spoke to Randle late Tuesday night then again early Wednesday and said he would again late Wednesday night—keeping his promise to be a lynchpin in the 19-year-old rookie's support system at this critical time.

Bryant has also publicly propped up the Lakers organization as one that takes care of its own and has old heads around to help young players overcome adversity faster. Sure enough, James Worthy called Randle at midnight—knowing Randle would be too stressed about his leg and his future to sleep—and reassured him with the story of Worthy's own broken tibia as an NBA rookie...en route to a Hall of Fame career with the Lakers.

Kobe Bryant has tried to encourage Julius Randle to let go of the sadness of a lost season and focus on the rehab work ahead.
Kobe Bryant has tried to encourage Julius Randle to let go of the sadness of a lost season and focus on the rehab work ahead.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Bryant mentioned Blake Griffin losing his rookie season to injury, too, in speaking with Randle.

"He's got to draw inspiration from that and use that as a source of comfort," Bryant said.

Bryant also made sure Randle, who grew up idolizing Bryant, is using Kobe's 2013 Achilles rupture as his primary reference point.

"My situation was similar," Bryant told Randle. "It's just you have an advantage that you're 19. Deal with the frustration tonight, get it out of your system and then it becomes about the challenge of coming back."

Just like Bryant after his Achilles tear, Randle had surgery on his leg the very next morning. With that decision, Bryant said, the time for feeling sorry for yourself ends, which is why he was inspired to hear Randle, after the tears, sharing the following words:

"Yeah, I'm not having any pity parties."

Bryant likes Randle and respects his determination to improve. In just a month together, Bryant had come to the conclusion, meant in the best way possible, that "he's a dog."

Randle actually already went through a humbling injury in November 2012, fracturing his right foot in the second game of his senior year of high school. Now, it is his right leg, a break the Lakers believe is unrelated to the first one.

Bryant, of course, fractured his left knee shortly after finally returning from this torn left Achilles last season.

They are indeed brothers in wounds.

Bryant isn't the perfect teammate, but he's trying—and he has learned lessons.

He played quite well on offense Wednesday night in his first post-Achilles 30-plus-point game. He also played quite irresponsibly on defense, particularly as his exasperation grew.

But Bryant (31 points on 11-of-25 shooting in 28 minutes) had painfully little help.

"Kobe's the least of my worries," Scott said afterward.

After leading only once at 3-2 in the opener against the Houston Rockets, the Lakers never led at all against the Suns. The 18-point home loss marred by Randle's stunning fall was followed by this 20-point road loss that saw Carlos Boozer bungling plays even worse than Kwame ever did.

One NBA scout on hand Wednesday night was impressed enough by Bryant's shot-making (and passing despite teammates failing to finish) that he declared: "Kobe's back."

Another scout, however, wondered aloud what Bryant, especially now that he's healthy, really thinks of just how bad the Lakers already have been.

Bryant has his answer at the ready: He's working on it—and he'll continue to be. (He also has a joke ready about how well he has been able to limit his minutes twice because "we got blown the f--k out.")

"I've been trained really well by the Yodas of the world," Bryant said, referring to Tex Winter and Phil Jackson. "They've always just talked about looking at the game and looking at things you can correct. Then the next day, correct them. It's a simple as that. We're not as bad as these first two games. We're not."

Byron Scott has seen his Lakers surrender an average of 114 points over their first two games.
Byron Scott has seen his Lakers surrender an average of 114 points over their first two games.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

One example Bryant cites is the minimal production so far from new point guard Jeremy Lin, whom Bryant told late Wednesday night on the bench basically to stop walking on eggshells around him.

Go run the offense—aggressively. This is your job. You run the show. You're good at it. You don't have to look over your shoulder anymore like with other teams. Grab the bull by the horns. Enough with your talk about fitting in or facilitating for me. Play like you played when you were in high school.

The example that sprang to Bryant's mind was Derek Fisher, Bryant's favorite teammate ever—someone who theoretically wasn't good enough to tell Bryant what to do but someone who knew it served the greater good not to be Bryant's pushover.

Again, it took shared experiences—a ton of them, in that case, after Bryant and Fisher entered the NBA the same year.

And with that mind, Bryant allowed it will absolutely take Lin more time to settle in next to him. Just as Bryant was able to convey the message to Lin on the bench because there was fourth-quarter garbage time Wednesday night, even moments of failures can build connective tissue.

Jeremy Lin has handed out only seven assists in the Lakers' first two games this season.
Jeremy Lin has handed out only seven assists in the Lakers' first two games this season.Matt York/Associated Press

You might plan a lavish night on the town with your special someone, be forced to cancel all your elaborate plans and wind up sitting at home...having a simple, great conversation. Either way, it's a cool shared experience—and they are bricks in the wall of that relationship.

Asked how he will stay patient with the Lakers now, Bryant said, "You don't stay patient. You stay persistent."

And he proceeded to wax poetic on Jackson's Zen ideals by way of explanation:

You must demand things turn around immediately because that impetus is what will drive things to turn around. Yet you know honestly that things will not turn around immediately because results can only come through a process of change.

That's how Bryant goes from being ticked off on the US Airways Center court Wednesday night while trying to rally the team...to understanding the peace of the bigger pie by the time he reaches the locker room.

And that's why Bryant sure hopes everything he invests in Randle will pay off in some immediate, remarkable jackpot next season and not when Bryant is long gone...but he appreciates that the true dignity is in the try.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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