|Kobe: "Dwight, you suck."- my imagined exchange the two shared at this moment|
The Los Angeles Lakers are 17-25 so far this season. That record is good enough (bad enough?) for 12th (!) in the Western Conference, just ahead of the Sacramento Kings and behind the Dallas Mavericks.
Yep, the same Lakers that most people picked to either win the NBA Finals this season or at least win the Western Conference. Right now, it appears that neither of those things is even remotely possible for this incarnation of the Lakers to achieve. Thusly, when a presumed-contending team like LA falters so incredibly this late into the season, the players — especially the more competitive ones, like Kobe Bryant — are going to get pissed-off and rightly so.
This frustration boiled over into a shouting match yesterday morning in which Kobe directly asked Dwight Howard, offseason trade acquisition flop, if the center did not want to play with the longtime Lakers franchise player, based on comments Howard recently made about not getting the ball enough. The heated meeting came on the heels of a tough loss to the Bulls a few days back, compounded with a lifeless loss to the Grizzlies Wednesday night.
Put these together and you get a continued four-game losing streak and enough anger/unvented frustration. Put these together and you get a clearly dysfunctional locker room that is now resorting to blaming teammates for the TEAM's combined struggles.
I understand how serious Kobe is about winning, and he may be even more serious about his pride. He, probably unlike the happy-go-lucky Howard, is taking this dreadful season to heart and wants it to stop as soon as possible so this team of All-Stars/future Hall-of-Famers can get back to winning the games it knows it should be able to.
However, the imperative to change the atmosphere around the Lakers cannot just sit in the hands of its most senior member in Kobe, who is certainly pulling his share enough, scoring almost 30 points a game this year.
His teammates, like Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and The Player Formerly Known as Ron Artest (Metta World Peace), have to pick up their end of the slack and step up their performances. Howard is averaging 16-plus points and 12 rebounds per game but is shooting free throws at around a 50 percent clip. He has been wildly inconsistent, playing wonderfully some games and disappearing in others.
Nash, when not injured, has been pretty good but is not nearly playing at the level that he was last season in Phoenix, the level of play GM Mitch Kupchak expected when acquiring the former two-time MVP this summer.
Gasol and World Peace have also played decently so far, with Pau recently being demoted from the starting lineup to the bench and Metta draining open threes like it's no one's business. But, with all of their offensive success, Gasol and World Peace have been brutal on defense, lacking the effort needed to help out their teammates when a rotation is missed. That's partly to blame for the Lakers being 26th in the NBA in points allowed with 101.5 given up per contest.
Maybe Kobe was just in his anger, but Dwight certainly not with his.
Regardless, all the key members of this team must learn to work/play with each other without flare-ups like these constantly happening. You don't often hear of a contending team with infighting present. It just doesn't work like that.