The Los Angeles Lakers are a mess. They've gotten blown out in their first two games of the season. Steve Nash, who is suffering from nerve damage in his back, is out for the season and so is rookie Julius Randle after breaking his leg.
But if you thought the Lakers' start to the season couldn't get any worse, think again. Now they have to deal with the NBA schedule's pitfall: four games in five nights. A product of cramming 82 games in just 170 days with an extended All-Star break in between; schedule-makers handed the Lakers a back-to-back to kick off the season, only to be followed by another back-to-back with just one day off in between.
Just what the Lakers needed, huh? All but two teams -- the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs -- will have to go through at least one of the dreaded four-in-five stretches. The Lakers' just so happens to come at the very beginning of the season.
And so the burden falls on Kobe Bryant, a 36-year-old coming off two major leg injuries, to carry the extra load. But this feels ominous. Remember when Bryant fractured his kneecap, ending his season last December? The devastating injury occurred during -- you guessed it -- his fourth game in five nights.
He tried to carry the load, scoring 31, his first 30-plus-point night since rupturing his Achilles in 2013. But calls weren't going his way, his teammates fumbled his passes and failed to convert them into easy layups and, more often than not, well, they just stood there, watching the 36-year-old go solo, trying to make something out of nothing.
All that time spent rehabilitating, working out, preparing for a return to the court, to a return to his former self (or as close as he could get) and this is what awaited the Lakers icon -- an 18-point blowout to start the season at home, then a 20-point whooping here Wednesday to the Phoenix Suns. It marked the first time since 1960, when the Lakers moved from Minneapolis to L.A., that they lost each of their first two games of the season by double digits.
Bryant's frustration boiled over on the court, and Lakers coach Byron Scott said it was because Bryant didn't like the officiating. Bryant disagreed.
"The frustration comes from getting blown out twice," Bryant said after an 11-for-25 shooting performance from the field. "The clutching and grabbing and stuff, I think Byron is trying to lobby to get me some more calls. That stuff never bothered me. I do quite a bit of it myself."
But for as furious as Bryant had been during the game, he was just as calm after. He talked only about the process.
"I've been trained really well by the Yodas of the world," he said. "The thing they've always talked about, just looking at the game, looking at the things you can correct."
Correct an issue, then move on to the next issue. And so on. While the Lakers have plenty in need of repair -- such as 3-point shooting -- Bryant didn't seem overwhelmed and denied flashbacks to other lost seasons when he was on his own.
He instead focused on his teammates and their adjustment to playing with him, specifically point guard Jeremy Lin, who had six points and one assist against the Suns.
"I talked to him a on the bench a little bit [Wednesday night]," Bryant said. "I said, 'You've got to run the offense. Like, I'm telling you to run the offense. You've got to do it.'"
Bryant then invoked one of his former teammates, point guard Derek Fisher.
"Me and D-Fish used to bicker and snipe at each other all the time, and I couldn't love a teammate more," Bryant said. "These guys are young, man. It takes a little time to understand that -- that teams become really great by challenging each other.
"I want it to be [Lin's] role to orchestrate the offense, call the right things, get guys in the right spots. It's going to take a little getting used to for him, because it's different in the past. But that's what I want from him."
Lin played with James Harden in Houston and Carmelo Anthony in New York, two of the NBA's premier scorers.
"I'm different," Bryant interjected. "I'm a different breed. I score differently than they do." Anthony and Harden control the ball, Bryant said, while he doesn't -- or doesn't prefer to.
"I told [Lin] that's a big urban legend with me," Bryant said. "I want to score. That means coming off picks, catching and shooting, right? So you handle the ball, you run the show."
For his part, Lin agreed that Bryant's attention to detail is more precise than the aforementioned counterparts, a description that Lin has recited ad nauseam. Beyond that, Lin just said that all three are capable scorers, that he needs to find a way to facilitate and complement Bryant.
But Lin said the priority is defense -- the Lakers are allowing 113.5 points a game. "That's first and foremost," Lin said. "Everything else will kind of shake itself out."
And as for him and Bryant, Lin simply called it a "growing process."
Said Bryant: "Hopefully, [that process] is done tonight."
Bryant returned to the notion that teammates don't have to be pals on the court -- a theme Bryant holds dear, one that is also cited as a key reason why many players don't enjoy playing alongside him.
"A lot of young players think that teams are supposed to get along," Bryant said. "That's no championship team that I've been on."
He added later, "Fish and I didn't come in here having that understanding overnight. We played with some teams that were -- interesting. We had to learn by trial and error. Fish wasn't Fish when he came in. I wasn't me when I came in."
How can Bryant stay patient, though, waiting on Lin or anyone else -- or on the myriad issues before them -- especially now that Bryant is in the twilight of his career, the clock ticking closer toward the end?
"You don't stay patient," Bryant said. "You stay persistently patient. You want those results today, but you understand that it's a process to get there.
"So you demand things turn around now," Bryant said, snapping his fingers three times loud and clear for emphasis, "understanding that it won't be the case, but in order for things to turn around, you have to want them to turn them around today."
It will take time, though it's unclear if that process will ever reach a resolution that makes any sort of difference in a season in which the Lakers seemed destined for the lottery.
Just consider the scene with about four minutes left in the third quarter: Bryant slashing to the rim, the Suns collapsing and Bryant, hanging in the air, with several defenders in his face and with his team trailing by 24, looping a pass around a defender to the left wing, hoping a teammate would be ready to fire a wide-open 3-pointer.
But no one was there. The ball sailed into the third row. Bryant was on his own, and with this patchwork squad -- and with teammates that Bryant says don't know how to play with him yet -- Bryant might face that scenario a lot this season.
"We've talked about, when he does have the ball, [that] we can't just stand there and watch," Scott said. "We've still got to have good spacing. We've still got to cut to the basket to give him other opportunities to look for guys. He's more than a willing passer. It's just, guys have to get open and quit watching."
Though it has been only two games, Scott's message to the team after the Phoenix loss was telling: "I told them, 'We've got to hang in there.'" For how long is the greater question, especially to someone like Bryant.
The Lakers icon said he feels fine -- great, even. Then, when asked if this was still fun -- just being back on the court, playing again, considering what it took for him to even return -- Bryant said, simply, "No."
"I enjoy playing," he said. "But the fun is when you win."
And after his team essentially eschewed them during their exhibition contests, including going nearly 13 quarters without making one, first-year Lakers coach Byron Scott said he believed prolific 3-pointing offenses don't win NBA championships. Of course, seven of the past eight NBA champions led all playoff teams in 3-point attempts and makes.
In other words, the Lakers have been outscored 84-36 on 3-pointers alone this season.
"The 3-point shot's a big problem for us," Kobe Bryant said after his team's 20-point loss against the Suns. "The brand of basketball that's being played, teams really shoot the 3. We're not a big 3-point shooting team so we can't give up 16 of them."
"We've got to do a better job of guarding 3s," Scott "That's the two things in the first two games that have really, really hurt us."
"Well, get out in transition more, knock down a couple 3s ourselves," Bryant said.
The Lakers will need to take a lot more 3s. The league-average last season was 21.5 attempts per game, a record that broke the previous mark of 20, set the season before. The Lakers are averaging just 11.5 attempts per game.
But as Scott has noted before -- and Bryant touched on this subject as well -- the Lakers aren't loaded with snipers. Even then, the players they do have who can knock them down -- Ryan Kelly and Nick Young -- are both injured.
The issue won't go away anytime soon for the Lakers, and they'll notice it even more in their next two games against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday and then the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. Both of those squads feature potent sharpshooters.
PHOENIX -- Kobe Bryant played the Phoenix Suns here Wednesday ... and, although he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer, he is still but one man. The Suns rolled, and the Los Angeles Lakers have now given up 227 total points in two games this season.
Play of the game: With about 4 minutes left in the third quarter, Bryant drove right. He slashed to the rim and the Suns' collapsed on him. Hanging in the air, with several defenders in his face, and with his team trailing by 24, Bryant looped a pass around a Suns big man and zipped it toward the left wing, hoping a teammate would be ready to fire a wide-open 3-pointer. But no one was there. The pass sailed into the third row. Bryant, who finished with 31 points on 11-25 shooting in 28 minutes, was on his own, on this play and in numerous others throughout the night.
Key word of the night: Balance. Midway through the fourth quarter, Bryant was the only Laker to score in double figures. He has as many field-goal attempts (25) as the other four Lakers starters had combined. The Suns, meanwhile, had six players score in double figures, led by Isaiah Thomas, who scored 23 off the bench.
Stat of the night: The Suns outscored the Lakers 48-12 from 3-point range. Phoenix buried 16-of-32 attempts from beyond the arc, while the Lakers shot just 4-of-13 -- and two of those makes were by Kobe.
Head-scratcher of the night: Lakers forward Carlos Boozer finished with twice as many turnovers (eight) as points, not an easy feat.
PHOENIX -- Isaiah Thomas scored 23 points in his Phoenix debut, Marcus Morris matched his career high with five 3-pointers and the Suns dominated their season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers 119-99 on Wednesday night despite Kobe Bryant's 31 points.
Goran Dragic scored 12 of his 18 points in the third quarter, when the Suns outscored the Lakers 39-24 and led by as many as 29.
Phoenix's Eric Bledsoe had 16 points and nine assists before he drew his second technical foul and was ejected with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Lakers were blown out for the second night in a row, dropping their opener at home to Houston 108-90 on Tuesday night, losing first-round draft pick Julius Randle for the season with a broken leg in the process.
PHOENIX -- Shock. Disappointment. Hurt. Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott said his team felt those emotions and more in the wake of Julius Randle suffering a broken leg that the team expects will sideline the rookie forward for the remainder of the season.
Randle, the team's top draft choice and seventh overall pick in June, suffered the injury midway through the fourth quarter of the Lakers' season-opening loss Tuesday to the Houston Rockets.
"[The] young man obviously has a promising future. We're going to miss him for a little while, but we have to regroup. We have to basically move on, as crazy as it sounds. We have to move on."
Randle had surgery Wednesday, after which the team announced that it was unlikely that the 19-year-old would play again this season
"We've got to realize, he's 19 years old," Scott said. "We don't know how he's going to react. Obviously, he was very disappointed last night and very hurt."
Scott said he expects forward Ed Davis to play more minutes in Randle's absence.
Looking at the footage, Scott said he didn't expect the injury to be that severe. Randle drove to the basket, his right foot appeared to buckle, and he collapsed. After several minutes, he was carted off the floor on a stretcher.
"He got bumped in midair, but it wasn't like he collided with anybody," Scott said. "It just kind of looked like his left foot kind of kicked his right leg and he comes down and he just grabbed his leg. I don't know if it was a freak accident or what, but it was something that just didn't look that bad to end up being as bad as it is."
Randle marks the second Lakers player in as many weeks that the team has said would likely miss the season because of health issues. The Lakers ruled out 40-year-old point guard Steve Nash last week because of recurring back issues.
Keeping morale high, especially amid a season that was already short on optimism, will be a tall task for Scott, who is in his first season as Lakers coach.
"I'm a very upbeat person, very positive, very glass-is-half-full instead of half-empty type guy," Scott said. "So every day that [the players] see me, that's the way that I am. I try to keep that same type of attitude every single day.
"Being the leader of the team, you have to have that type of attitude, because once they see you're a little down or that you're not feeling the same way that they're feeling, being that they're down or up, whatever the case may be, they kind of take their hint from their leader."
Eighteen months later, their future suffered the same fate when lottery pick Julius Randle's right tibia broke 13 minutes into his professional debut.
A day later, the Lakers find themselves on unfamiliar ground. Their title aspirations are gone and, for at least this season, so is their future. What happens next will likely determine the Lakers' success for the rest of the decade.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Randle, the Lakers' top draft choice and the seventh overall selection in June, suffered the injury in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the Lakers' season-opening loss to the Houston Rockets at Staples Center.
The 19-year old drove to the basket, planted his right foot awkwardly and collapsed. Randle, a former Kentucky standout, remained on the court until he was carted off on a stretcher. He scored two points.
Randle's surgery was performed by Dr. Donald Wiss at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Lakers announced.
"I didn't get a whole lot of sleep just thinking about the young fella," Lakers coach Byron Scott said Wednesday before facing the Suns. "(I was) talking to him after the game, basically just holding him and listening to him cry and trying to console him as much as possible. It's a tough situation.
"(The) young man obviously has a promising future. We're going to miss him for a little while, but we have to regroup. We have to basically move on, as crazy as it sounds. We have to move on."
Randle is the second Lakers player in as many weeks to be ruled out for the season because of health issues. Last week, the team announced that 40-year-old point guard Steve Nash would remain sidelined because of recurring back issues.
The Lakers' health troubles date back to last season, when their players combined to miss a league-high 319 games because of injury.
It's expected that the Lakers will file for another disabled player exception with the NBA, as they have done with Nash. If granted in Randle's case, the team would expect to receive an additional $1.5 million.
Randle is the Lakers' first first-round pick in seven years, a talented prospect in one of the more touted lottery classes in years. He was also their highest draft choice since the selection of James Worthy
LOS ANGELES -- As Dwight Howard prepared to enter free agency in 2013, his representatives advised the Los Angeles Lakers that their best chance to retain his services would be if their pitch avoided references to the team's glorious past. Howard wanted to hear only what the Lakers could do for him going forward.
They might as well have asked the Lakers to shed their purple and gold colors. The Lakers are inextricably bound to their history. Actually, history isn't the right word. Every team has history, be it good or bad. Few teams in sports have lore, that distinct category the Lakers earned by virtue of their 16 championships and abundance of single-name-identifiable players who could account for an entire floor of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Take their history out of the mix and the Lakers held no appeal for Howard. He opted for the Houston Rockets, a team with a star shooting guard in James Harden who is 11 years younger than Kobe Bryant.
When Howard returned to Los Angeles on the new season's opening night, the game not only served as a reminder that he made the right choice, but it also turned into a stark truth that the deficit between the Lakers' history and their future has never been greater.
The Lakers went heavy on the nostalgia Tuesday night. They celebrated the return of Showtime -- or one of that era's players, at least -- as Byron Scott manned the sideline for the first time as the Lakers' 25th head coach. They gave fans T-shirts with Scott's No. 4 on the back. Their intro video included an old clip of him dunking. The media guides had a portrait of Scott in a suit, with two images of him in his Lakers uniform in the background.
Bryant, the singular face of the franchise for the past 10 years, played for the first time since December. He wiggled his way free for 19 points in 29 minutes and showed that he can still be Kobe, to some degree. He isn't completely a part of the past yet.
But Bryant isn't in the Lakers' long-term plans. Rookie Julius Randle