Friday, February 25, 2011
Worried about Lakers? Kobe isn't
By Stephen A. Smith ESPNLosAngeles.com
In contemplating the kind of season the Lakers have had thus far, there isn't much that should amuse Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers are older, appear to be a tad slower, have clearly lacked focus from time to time -- and don't appear to have "shame" as a part of their vernacular. They've lost to the likes of Sacramento, Charlotte and the league-worst Cleveland Cavaliers in the past month alone. Questions about their veneer, their toughness, their commitment have proliferated.
And yet a funny thing has transpired along the way: None of it has seemed to faze Bryant at all.
"Why should it?" Bryant told me just a few days ago. "I know who we are. I've been to war with these guys over the last several years. Three straight trips to the NBA Finals. Two straight championships. When you go through that together, I can totally understand why other folks would be worried. Just don't expect me to be. Especially when it comes to worrying about ME."
Does it look like Kobe Bryant is worried?
You heard him! Sit around and question the Lakers all you want.
Even if Bryant doesn't concede he acknowledges there are reasons for apprehension about his Lakers, he knows better.
Bryant's aware that Derek Fisher is 36 years of age; that Lamar Odom is a successful reality show away from being comatose for a season. He knows that the enigmatic Ron Artest -- who's told many folks he wanted out of L.A. because he doesn't like Bryant, even if he tries to deny it now -- is always drifting a few miles away from reality, and he's aware of the fact that persistent trepidation about Andrew Bynum's health is a reality the Lakers must continue to deal with.
But what Bryant's not interested in hearing is that the Lakers are in legitimate trouble because of him. Or whatever slippage that appears evident in his game.
That LeBron James went to Miami didn't faze Bryant. Neither did anything Orlando did to improve its team. Or New York or Chicago, for that matter.
Now, as for the Boston Celtics, "That's a team to be concerned about, with their size, experience and toughness," Bryant said.
Bryant echoed those words before the Celtics pulled the trigger near the trade deadline, shipping center Kendrick Perkins (and guard Nate Robinson) to Oklahoma City for forward Jeff Green and center Nenad Krstic. While it's clearly a move that makes the Thunder tougher, the jury is still out on the effect it's expected to have on the Celtics. Particularly if they end up meeting Bryant and the Lakers in the Finals.
"To win championships you obviously have to have the pieces in place," Bryant said. "So with that, you've got to understand that you don't win titles by worrying about what other people are doing. You win by making sure you're in peak position, physically, mentally, emotionally, when it matters most to handle your business. Like I've said: I've already been to war with these guys too long to worry about them not doing that. And I know myself."
More on the Lakers
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The rest of us know Bryant all too well, which is why a collective smirk permeated the NBA community Wednesday night after Bryant sauntered into Portland and handled the Blazers.
Bryant registered 28 second-half points. The Lakers held the Blazers scoreless for the final 4:20 of regulation to send the game into overtime, then shut down their nemesis the rest of the way. In the midst of all that were fist pumps by Bryant, the habitual scowl when he's locked in. Considering that it was just a week removed from when the Lakers embarrassed themselves by losing to Cleveland, the message was clear.
"This is the key stretch," Bryant said.
It's time to stop playing games.
Bryant has his schedule. He doesn't care if it's different than anyone else's.
While the rest of us know the Lakers are just 2-6 in the games they've played against the top five teams in the league -- Celtics, Heat, Bulls, Spurs and Mavericks -- this season, and most of us know they've averaged just 90 points per game vs. those teams as opposed to 104.3 ppg vs. the other 24 teams in the league, Bryant's wry smile reveals the kind of arrogance and self-assuredness we've only seen champions possess.
"All that matters is ... who is the last man standing in June," Bryant continuously echoes each year. "That's how I measure success. I can't speak for anybody else."
He didn't say whether his occasional dismissive tendencies included the Spurs, who've won three championships this decade. Or the Mavericks, who can't seem to beat the Lakers when it counts. Or Oklahoma City, with a superstar in Kevin Durant and a rising star in Russell Westbrook; a team that gave the Lakers a run for their money last year in a first-round Western Conference series.
Then again, Bryant really didn't have to.
As he once told me a long time ago: "I don't work the way I work, train the way I train, commit myself and suffer the way I do when I've failed ... to yield control of my destiny to anyone. Winning or nothing. You get to a point when that's just the way you feel and you do whatever it takes."
Most have not earned the right to feel that way.
Still wondering why they don't matter?