As he sat by his locker processing the Lakers’ 0-3 record, Kobe Bryant’s cell phone went off.
The alarm buzzed louder and louder, mimicking the high shrieked noise used when ordering an evacuation. Plenty of Lakers fans are likely sounding a similar noise. After all, the Lakers’ 105-95 loss Friday to the Clippers marked the team’s worst start since the 1978-79 season.
Yet, Bryant hardly sounded worried. This timer just let him know when he could take his feet out of an ice bath. As far as whether he and his teammates should actually sound their own alarm, Bryant maintained a bemused tone.
“We’re hitting the panic button now,” Bryant said sarcastically.
He had the same smirk he shared the day earlier when he told concerned Lakers fans and critics alike simply to “shut up.” But then Bryant turned serious.
“We’re not supposed to just coast and assume things will fix themselves, he said. “We got to push at it.”
It’s a dicey proposition for Bryant, let alone the Lakers, to maintain the right balance between keeping sights on the big picture without worrying if the team’s 0-3 start suggests long-term implications. As the Lakers’ star admitted, “it’s particularly hard for me because I’m not the most patient individual in the world.”
Nonetheless, Bryant vows not to overreact to the Lakers’ latest adversity.
He chalked up the team’s 20 turnovers and giving up 20 second-chance points as easily correctable problems. Bryant also recognizes that as talented as this Hall-of-Fame laden team is with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, they still remain a fundamentally old team.
“It’s a thinking man’s game. We just got to figure out what we’re doing wrong and try to correct it,” Bryant said. “We have to think through the process of what we’re trying to do, how we want to play offensively, how we maintain floor balance and how we cut down second chance points. We just have to think through it. We’re not the most athletic team in the world so we can’t just say play hard. We have to outthink teams. That takes some time.”
Still, there’s plenty of issues surrounding this team that warrant concern.
Clippers guard Chris Paul had more assists (15) than the entire Lakers team. Dwight Howard can’t get out of foul trouble (averaging 5.3 per game). The Lakers’ bench has proven unreliable, ranging from Jordan Hill’s flimsy health (herniated disk), Antawn Jamison’s lack of scoring and Jodie Meeks’ fluctuating playing time.
Meanwhile, Bryant’s 40-point effort on 14 of 23 shooting, including 17 fourth-quarter points, shows he rightfully doesn’t have enough confidence in the Princeton-style offense in the short-term. With Steve Nash expected to be sidelined for at least a week because a fracture in his left leg, it’s possible the Lakers’ learning curve could exacerbate even more.
“It’s like taking a fish and telling him to walk out on water,” Bryant said about staying positive. “But I’ll do my best.”
Bryant has done that thus far by publicly defending Brown’s system and pleading for patience. After all, the 1990-91 Chicago Bulls team went 0-3 in Phil Jackson’s first offense the first season.
“He’s going to speak the truth when he talks,” Brown said, “and he’s going to speak his mind.”
But what Bryant has said to the team remains unclear. Howard remained awkwardly silent when I asked him questions about how Bryant’s handled the team’s latest adversity and what he’s stressed to the team. Each question, Howard noticeably refused to move his mouth.
Publicly at least, Bryant will stay positive. He feels he has no other choice.
“I’ll be patient for understanding it’s my responsibility and understanding that’s part of my role,” Bryant said. “Believe it or not, I try to be the voice of reason. Keep us going and keep on trucking. I’ve been through these things before and I have to continue the process.”
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