Pau Gasol wants the skepticism to persist on Kobe Bryant.
ESPN ranked the Lakers in 12th place in the Western Conference? So Bryant sent a single tweet out simply saying, “12.” ESPN listed Bryant as the 25th best NBA player? So Bryant changed his Twitter avatar to “1225,” both to poke fun at the aforementioned slights. An anonymous survey of all 30 league general managers posted on NBA.com considers Bryant the second best shooting guard behind Houston’s James Harden. Bryant hasn’t done anything yet, hiding out in the trainer’s room during the Lakers’ 104-98 preseason win Tuesday against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center to rehab his left Achilles tendon in hopes of squashing such a doubting public.
But Gasol wants to hear more.
“It’s interesting. I like it because I think Kobe always finds ways to motivate himself and to keep those things in mind,” Gasol said. “It pushes him to push himself harder and be ready.”
Gasol can speak from experience playing with Bryant for the past five years with the Lakers.
He helped Bryant overcome the persisting question on whether he could win an NBA title without Shaquille O’Neal. The duo won two of them. Bryant faced endless questions on whether a creaky right knee meant the end of his prolific career. He answered no by flying to Germany two years ago to have an innovative procedure. Bryant then topped that off by losing 16 pounds last summer and then averaging 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting, six assists and 5.6 rebounds. Bryant’s shooting percentage marked his highest efficiency in the previous five seasons. His assist totals represented his highest since the 2002-03 season.
“You know how good he played last year,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “My gosh no one plays better than him. You never know what is behind the thinking, but i’m sure there are 30 execs who would get him in a second if they could get him.”
Those same general managers also touted Bryant as the toughest player of the league. Not surprising considering Bryant cemented his well-documented ability to play through injuries by sinking two free throws and walking off the court on his own mere moments after injuring his Achilles on April 12 against the Golden State Warriors.
Apparently, that’s proven to be a double-edged sword.
“I just think they might consider his injury and the doubt and question marks on how he’s going to be able to come back,” Gasol said on the front office survey. “That’s the factor.”
And one that Bryant will surely remember as he continues working to return to the court.
“He’s motivated anyway. It does not matter, D’Antoni said. “This guy is dedicated for the Lakers fans, himself, us as a team. Id on’t think it helps him or hurts him. It’s maybe one more thing that pushes him. But he doesn’t really need it. He’s pretty good. I’m sure he’ll use it to be more satisfied when he does come back. But if no one said anything, he’d work just as hard.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org