Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, glaring for some reason (Getty Images)
There are two ways to take Pau Gasol's translated interview with a Spanish radio station, following his Lakers' embarrassing loss to a Washington Wizards team on Wednesday night. You could mind the Internet-translation we used to "quote" Pau as he mentioned Los Angeles' "certain level of selfishness," aware of the limitations of Web-based translating devices and the fact that some words do not have strict and linear doppelgangers from language to language. Such as, say, "selfishness."
Or you could point to the fact that Kobe Bryant missed more shots in Washington's comeback win (22) than Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined to take (they finished 12 of 19). And that Bryant missed 9 of 10 attempts in the fourth quarter in a fruitless attempt to fire his Lakers back into the game from the perimeter. Either way, the back-to-back Laker losses to Detroit and Washington leave the championship hopefuls in a bad way, and Gasol (again, through this Internet translator) can't be happy. Here's the quote:
"(There is) lack of concentration, overconfidence and a certain level of selfishness, in general. I'm not a person or a selfish player, but we have to move the ball more, and we have to look further the team game, because we have enough talent to use different players," said an upset Gasol to the Catalan public radio.
This is a problem. We hold the Lakers up for a more strident brand of criticism because, frankly, they're smarter than most teams. And they lost on Wednesday to perhaps the least-cerebral NBA team we've seen in decades of watching the game. Kobe Bryant watches more tape than any player in this league. Pau Gasol knows this game (literally and figuratively) inside and out. Mike Brown is absolutely obsessed with going over film and finding statistical quirks to take advantage of.
And yet, the Lakers are 23-16, and 15th in the NBA in offense. Let that swirl for a bit -- a team featuring the league's leading scorer paired with perhaps the NBA's two most effortless low post scorers is mediocre offensively. No amount of arguing away the gaping holes at the point guard and small forward spots can make this any better. There's no reason the Lakers should be this poor, 39 games into a season.
Actually, there are several reasons. And though we can point to Kobe firing away on Twitter all night, this comes down to coach Mike Brown actually attempting to stand up to his star player. Something he was clearly incapable of doing in Cleveland with LeBron James, and something he's failing miserably at in Los Angeles. This quote, in reference to a discussion he had earlier in the season with Bryant in an interview from Wednesday, is sadly telling.
"'We're going to have to rely on our defense. I'm going to let you go on offense quite a bit, [Bryant is] going to have to carry us offensively because there's a stretch of games that we can win, try to get us over .500, start us heading in the right direction. It was, 'Go get it, I'll take care of the defense and we'll go from there.' And he went and did it."
It can't work that way, though. This isn't the 2001 Philadelphia 76ers, with Allen Iverson and a cast of hopeless offensive helpers. This isn't last year's Bulls, with all eyes on Derrick Rose. This is a Laker team with title potential, and three studs that could keep pace with any team in the league if they pushed hero ball to the side and attempted to find the most efficient way of scoring for more than a few token possessions here or there. Instead, Brown lets go, and Kobe (free from Phil Jackson's withering glare) fires away.
It's too late in the season for this to be sloughed off -- the league's most obsessive competitor needs a coach to rein him in. His coach needs to do a job that goes beyond making his team aware of how they're going to handle certain plays defensively. Bryant cannot be taking five 3-pointers a game while shooting 27.7 percent from long range. He can't be taking a Michael Jordan-level series of shot attempts (nearly 24 a contest) with two players that Jordan could only dream of playing with starting in his front court.
Kobe's a player. He's smart, he's brilliant, and he has drive; but he's a player. Players need coaches. Kobe needs Mike Brown, whether he knows it or not, and Mike Brown needs to exert some control over a road trip, an offense, a player and a team that has gone wrong. The time for laughing or even admiring Kobe's cool little postgame Kobeisms has passed.
And to the Laker fans that will defend Bryant and his team to the hilt and slough off any criticism as some form of bias, kindly ask yourself -- are you happy with this? Do you think this team should be behind a Clippers team that starts Randy Foye, or holding off a Memphis Grizzlies team that has been without its best player for most of the season? Should the Lakers have the NBA's 15th-ranked offense? And should most of your vitriol be tossed at the media and/or Pau Gasol, merely because you think you can beat the media and/or Pau Gasol at arm wrestling?
Whether or not Gasol's comments were muddied by translation is not the point. Losing to the Washington Wizards in a game should be the low point of the season, to say nothing of losing to a Wizards team you were beating by 21 points at one point during the contest. The Lakers, for all their rotation faults, should be better than they are, and the trade deadline isn't going to fix a damn thing.
It's up to Mike Brown and Kobe Bryant, two of the smartest basketball minds we have in this league, to step up to what they know is right.
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- Pau Gasol
- Washington Wizards
- Kobe Bryant