Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Updated: January 25, 3:35 PM ET
Kobe, Howard at center of meeting
By Dave McMenamin
MEMPHIS -- In order to move forward and turn around their disappointing season, the Los Angeles Lakers attempted to let go of their past frustrations with a team meeting Wednesday.
Prior to a shootaround in preparation for Wednesday night's game against the Memphis Grizzlies, coach Mike D'Antoni invited members of the Lakers to air their grievances, according to a team source.
Several players spoke up, including Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, the 17-year veterans who make up the Lakers' backcourt.
Bryant asked Dwight Howard if he was bothered by playing alongside him, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the meeting.
Bryant acknowledged he could be "hard to play with," according to the newspaper, and challenged Howard to speak up if he had a problem with it. Howard was "despondent" and did not offer much of a reply, according to a team source.
Howard, though, disputed the details of the story after Wednesday's game, a 106-93 loss to the Grizzlies in which he sat out the second half after re-aggravating a right shoulder injury.
"Whatever was said that (Bryant) said is not true," Howard said. "He never asked me if I liked playing with him. I will say that. He never asked me."
Howard then was asked if he was bothered by playing with Bryant.
"No, I'm not," Howard said. "It's something that we all got to learn. We got to learn how to play together."
After Wednesday's game, Bryant was asked if he "felt comfortable" with what he said during the team meeting. He responded, simply, "Yup."
While a coaching change and several injuries have contributed to the Lakers' 17-25 record at the season's halfway point, another major factor in their difficulties has been the lack of rhythm between Howard and Bryant.
Following the Lakers' 95-83 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday, Howard complained to reporters about getting only five shots, while Bryant was 7 of 22. Howard apologized for those comments after Wednesday's shootaround, calling them "immature."
One example of the rocky relationship between the two Western Conference All-Star starters, according to a league source, was a game this season when Howard harped to a teammate about the disparity between his and Bryant's shots while sitting on the bench. The teammate called Bryant over so Howard could tell it to Bryant's face, but the center refused to speak up.
Speaking before Wednesday's game, D'Antoni said he hoped the morning meeting helped.
"I hope it is (a positive thing)," the coach said. "That's the purpose of just trying to move forward, and hopefully it is. We'll see. We're in a rut right now, so the time to stand up, draw a line in the sand would be now.
"Obviously, our problems were the chemistry was not clicking. You try, 'OK, I'll push that guy, I'll pull that guy,' and you hope things overcome that and it didn't. It didn't. Now you get down to brass tactics and open your heart up and let everything be raw and see if we can solve some of the problems or the issues and just go forward."
Pau Gasol was disappointed the meeting was publicized.
"The meeting was a team thing," he said after Wednesday's game. "It was intended to stay that way. I'm not going to talk about what was said or what wasn't said. I think that's enough for us to talk about that we don't have to talk about what was said because I think it's something that should stay within the team and nothing should get leaked out in the first place.
"I don't know how that got out. When we have meetings, we should deal with our stuff as a family, as a group, and our family should be tight. If it's not tight, then there are cracks and the situation just keeps getting worse until at some point it will explode."
Added Nash: "I think it's good we got a chance to talk through it. Unfortunately, we come out tonight, we come out hard and then Dwight goes down and the meeting was for naught."
Lakers forward Antawn Jamison, who noted he has "seen it all" in his 15 years in the league, said this could be a make-or-break point for L.A.
"Now we're at the wall and we're going to find a way to help each other over that wall, or we're going to let the wall push us back even farther," Jamison said before Wednesday's loss.
D'Antoni said it's an issue of the entire team coming together.
"We've got an All-Star team out there," D'Antoni said before the game. "Have you ever watched an All-Star Game? It's God-awful because everybody gets the ball, they go 1-on-1 and then they play no defense. That's our team. That's us. We're an All-Star team and we haven't learned there's a pecking order. There's the one guy, the two guy, the three guy and the four guy. It might not be the same guy every night, but somebody has got to accept being the fourth guy. If you've been the first guy all your life, that's hard to accept. That's what happens in All-Star (Games) and that's what happened with us. Like I said, with today's meeting, hopefully we've overcome a little bit of that. I hope. We'll see."
Added Jamison: "Let's just have fun, man, and enjoy this journey and just pull for each other and realize that this is a special team. The first half of this season has been an embarrassment. We've been the laughingstock of the NBA. So, let's turn that embarrassment into one of the best stories in sports history and turn things around."