Kobe Bryant can tell us to shut up and be patient all he wants, but the eyes, like the ball, don't lie — the All-Star shooting guard is losing patience himself, as evidenced by the daggers he shot from the bench with his Los Angeles Lakers in the final stages of yet another disappointing defeat, a 95-86 loss to the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City on Wedndesday night. Check it out:
We don't know precisely the context surrounding the ice-grill — it's been popularly attributed to embattled Lakers coach Mike Brown, although you can't tell for certain from that camera angle, and as longtime Lakers chronicler Roland Lazenby noted, the stare could signify everything or nothing, because "a lot of things piss Kobe off."
I'm not going to lie, though: I got a little spooked by that look. Like, for a split second, I got worried that Kobe's eyes were going to cross the camera and catch me looking back through the screen at him, and that I'd be turned to stone, or ash, or component molecules or something. There's anger in them thar eyes, man, and with the Lakers sitting at 1-4 — the worst record in the Western Conference, as ESPN.com's John Hollinger pointed out — and precious few answers at hand, it's hard to blame him.
Bryant carried the anger from the bench to the locker room, according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:
Kobe Bryant started walking off the court with about five seconds left, disgusted by the Lakers' effort, turning around only to see that Metta World Peace missed a last-second shot.
Then he continued toward the locker room, his jersey pulled up into his clenched teeth as the Lakers lost again, 95-86, this time to Utah on Wednesday at EnergySolutions Arena.
Bryant was still seething as he sat in front of his locker, acknowledging he played with an anger and fire he hadn't displayed in a while.
"Just a little bit," he said, practically spitting out the words.
"Nothin' I care to share," he said.
Oh, there are plenty of reasons for Kobe to be mad, to be sure. The fact that the only three Lakers hitting better than 43 percent of their shots are him (56 percent), Dwight Howard (67.8 percent) and Robert Sacre (a perfect 1 for 1) — which means that everybody else, including All-Star big man Pau Gasol (41.8 percent), offseason acquisition Antawn Jamison (42.9 percent) and starting mascot Metta World Peace (39.1 percent) are struggling to score — is a pretty good one. So is the Lakers' inability to hang on to the ball — they've coughed the ball up on 20 percent of their offensive possessions, worst in the NBA, and are giving up 22 points per game off turnovers, second worst in the league.
A steps-slow defense that ranks in the bottom-third of the league in field-goal attempts allowed at the rim (20th among 30 NBA teams, according to NBA.com's stat tool), free-throw attempts allowed (23rd) and average points allowed per 100 possessions (23rd), continues to struggle defending ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll game (26th in points-per-possession allowed on that play type, according to Synergy Sports Technology) and consistently gets beat down the floor (27th in PPP allowed in transition) would seem to be the primary cause for concern, though. And considering that defense was supposed to be coach Brown's strong suit — and because it's an awful lot easier to get rid of a coach making $4.5 million who's got a team option for the last year of his deal than it is to shake up $72 million or so in underperforming assets — the bulk of Lakers' fans anger has targeted the coach. After Bryant's steely gaze lingered on Brown on Wednesday night, their passions grew even more enflamed.
With talk of an early season firing mounting and visions of Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan dancing in fans' heads, Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss stated clearly, publicly and for the record that Brown's job is safe, according to ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne:
"I have no problems with Mike Brown at all," Buss said. "He just works too hard and he's too knowledgeable for this to be happening.
"So either the system is flawed or something's going on. Or, like the Triangle, it's very hard to pick up and understand. I'm not a basketball mind like he is or the players are, and the players are fine with it, so I just have to be patient."
(Unfortunately for Brown, getting a vote of confidence from the boss is typically as much a cause for concern as that Kobe death stare is.)
One problem with Buss' comments: That last point — "and the players are fine with it" — might not be true. In a "maybe the sky's not falling" column that reminds hysterical Lakers fans the team gets its next six games at home against very beatable competition, the Orange County Register's Kevin Ding claims that "there's no doubt that the Lakers don't really believe in what they're doing" under Brown at the moment, a collection of false starts that's included regular reliance on struggling and miscast reserves like Devin Ebanks and Darius Morris.
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As has been noted here and elsewhere, it's still very early for hysteria in Lakerland — we're just five games in, there's a big-time homestand coming, injured point guard Steve Nash will soon be back in the fold, more reps and work will help loosen Howard's still-recovering back, and so on. Bryant, even after his raging exit, continues to say he's not overly concerned, according to from Bresnahan:
Are the Lakers starting to worry? Bryant smirked at the question.
"I'm terrified," he said sarcastically. "You serious with that? I'm shaking in my Nikes."
I don't doubt that Kobe's not scared on the basketball court, ever, under any circumstances. But if the words on his lips are really the gospel truth, he might want to tell his lyin' eyes, because they're singing a very different tune.
Video via CaCHooKaSportsNet.
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