Safe to say, these have not been the most carefree of days in Lakerland. Mitch Kupchak confirmed during Monday's practice what the attempt to acquire Chris Paul already made crystal clear: The front office is interested in making changes, and if your name isn't "Kobe" or "Bryant," a suitcase might be required. Because of this, the team's identity, whether in reference to literally who'll make up the roster or from a basketball sense, remains in flux. Among the only things known for certain is Lamar Odom, the longtime emotional leader, is gone. (Ironically, for being too emotional.) But even that iron-clad fact is one folks can't quite wrap their heads around.
"No, it still doesn’t make sense to me," said Kobe Bryant, albeit in a tone much more subdued than Sunday's angry growl. "You have to just trust that they know what they’re doing. That’s their job. They don’t come down here and tell me how to manage a team and things of that nature, so I’m not going to go up there and tell them what to do."
For starters, he and Mitch had a brief discussion where the general manager at least explained his thought process. Clearly, Bryant isn't sold, but he sounded like someone at least reassured method accompanies madness. And if further faith is still required, as Kobe noted, Kupchak's the same general manager who turned Kwame Brown into Pau Gasol.
"So, he’s kind of earned a license to be able to do whatever the hell he wants. He’s built a championship team. He’s done it before."
Derek Fisher expressed similar sentiments as his longtime backcourt buddy. He wasn't a fan of the trade on Sunday and doesn't sound the least bit swayed 24 hours later. At this exact moment, Fisher conceded, "Losing Lamar makes us a little bit of a worse team." However, he's not seeking an explanation from the front office, nor does he believe he's owed one.
"Management doesn't have to discuss that with me," shrugged Fisher. "It was a decision that, whether for short-term or long-term reasons, they thought it was best to make. I don't necessarily agree with it. Lamar was an extremely valuable member of our team and we'll miss him dearly. But it can't impact what it is that we have to do coming back into practice today and trying to get prepared to start the season on Christmas. As much as we may disagree, or it may bother us or it may impact us, we have to find ways to put it aside."
Despite whatever misgivings over LO's exit, and the acknowledgment of, as Fisher put it, "a huge, gaping hole" left in his absence, the Lakers remain confident in their chances to win a championship.
"Last I checked I still have Pau, I still have Andrew [Bynum], I still have [Metta World Peace]," smiled Kobe. "I kind of like my chances."
“Lamar is obviously a talented individual," said Mike Brown. "And anybody would love to coach Lamar Odom or have him on our team. Having said that, I still feel good about the group we have.”
When it was noted how the Lakers, on paper, are worse than when he was hired, Brown recounted his 2007 Cavaliers, led by LeBron James and four less-than-ideal starters, shocking the world by making it all the Finals. Similarly, Fisher cited his 2007 return to a team with little upside and a superstar two-guard looking to bolt. That team also reached the Finals.
Obviously, the examples aren't perfect, because Brown's Cavs got waxed by the Spurs and the 2008 Lakers were overwhelmed by the Celtics. But in both cases, initial expectations were surpassed by a country mile. The point? You never know how things are gonna shake out.
And that can cut both ways.
"Last year, we were back-to-back champions and Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown were here," said Fisher. "We thought everything was good, and come to find out we weren't as good as we thought we were.
"You can't win a championship until you're there. We had a great roster last year. We thought we could win a championship and we didn't. So having Lamar didn't win a championship. Not having him doesn't guarantee us winning or not winning. We just have to see how this thing unfolds."
However it does unfold, changes sooner rather than later would be appreciated. For starters, as Brown admitted, roster solidification makes his job easier as a coach, whether teaching a system, creating a rotation, or trying to foster chemistry. In the meantime, Gasol may be playing the good, professional soldier, participating in practices and addressing the media despite his stay in limbo. But he's admittedly getting antsy waiting to learn if he's in or he's out.
"It would be nice to know what's going to happen," said Gasol. "Just to have some peace of mind and some certainty. But I know that's hard to do. You can control what you can control and take it one day at a time. But it would be nice to know you're not gonna get traded and you're going to be here, so just focus on that and let's work all together. Or not."
Then again, Kobe's discovered an upside to so many unknown variables colliding.
"I think it’s been good for us the last couple days actually. I think everybody has been kind of walking on eggshells. Everybody, they don’t know if they’re safe or not. I think because of that you have a lot of nervous energy, but because of that it’s made our practices more spirited, more competitive, more energetic because you get here around each other and all you care about is each other and you care about competing and working hard. So you use that energy to create good practices."
Some interesting thoughts from Fisher about the Paul trade and the mess it's become. At the time of this interview, the trade to the Clippers was considered a strong possibility.