- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN.com
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Andrew Bynum tried to take the blame for the Lakers' staggering collapse in Washington by announcing after the 106-101 loss to the lowly Wizards that "I was kind of loafing around and having a good time, and it caught up."
The Lakers' problems, however, run far deeper than Bynum's effort level in the team's loss to the Wizards, according to sources close to the situation.
Bynum publicly invited the bulk of the responsibility for the Lakers' second straight loss to a lottery-bound straggler from the Eastern Conference, but sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com this week that there is growing concern among some Lakers players as to whether first-year coach Mike Brown and his staff have the X-and-O wherewithal to fix a Lakers offense that is averaging its lowest per-game point total (94) since before the advent of the 24-second shot clock in 1954-55.
Brown's effect on the Lakers' defense has been undeniable, but sources say the team's ongoing struggles on the road -- with L.A. dropping to 6-14 away from Staples Center following a loss in Detroit and blowing a 21-point lead to the undisciplined Wizards -- have some veterans longing for a return to the trusty Triangle offense preferred by Brown's predecessor, Phil Jackson.
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard recently reported that Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher called a players-only meeting after a win against Portland on Feb. 21 to address concerns about Brown's style, as well as persistent trade rumors involving Pau Gasol.
While that meeting might have quelled some of the tension in the short term, these two latest losses have brought the issues right back to the forefront and perhaps even exacerbated the situation as the team nears the March 15 trade deadline, continuing to languish in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference.
Sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com that multiple players have continued to meet privately since the initial team meeting to discuss running elements of the Triangle offense again.
"The players want to unify," one source with knowledge of the situation said. "They know how to win, and they want to fix this. I don't know if they can, though. "
The Lakers had gone 8-2 coming into this three-game road trip, including a win over the Miami Heat on Sunday. During that stretch, it was obvious Brown had made an effort to scale back on some of his micromanaging tendencies that have grated on players this season. He's noticeably canceled several practices and shootarounds after Bynum spoke out publicly about how the increased practice schedule, combined with an already condensed season, was affecting his play. He's settled into more consistent offensive rotations after experimenting for much of the season, and he's let the team read and react on offense instead of calling so many plays.
That effort was seen by the Lakers players as a good start toward repairing what was becoming an increasingly tense first season for the former Cleveland coach. The question now, sources say, is whether Brown and his players can get past this bump, given that Brown himself expressed some frustration after the meltdown against a Wizards team that had just eight wins going into Wednesday night's game.
After the loss to the Wizards (9-29), Brown attributed the second-half meltdown to poor ball movement, an over-reliance on individual play and inconsistent effort on the road -- critiques that have become familiar after L.A. losses.
"It's very simple," Brown said. "In the first half, we played the right way; in the second half, we didn't. We forced shots, and forcing shots is not a good thing for us."
It was easy to surmise that Brown was speaking about Bryant, who scored 30 points but did so on just 9-for-31 shooting. It was his second straight poor shooting night after making just eight of 26 shots in a loss to the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.
Asked about Bryant's shot selection -- he was 3-for-18 in the second half -- Brown said, "He was one of the guys that I did not think took great shots in the second half. I thought in the first half, our flow was there, and he got great looks and made the game easy. In the second half, our looks weren't as good."
Those comments are well-founded. Bryant did take some ill-advised shots, particularly in the fourth quarter.
However, they landed strangely with several players just a day after Brown said Bryant should be the MVP because of the way he's carried the team offensively this season despite battling through a serious wrist injury and a concussion.
"[Bryant] and I actually talked about that," Brown said Tuesday night before the loss to the Pistons. "We talked about: 'Hey, we're going to have to rely on our defense. I'm going to let you go on offense quite a bit, you're going to have to carry us offensively because there's a stretch of games that we can win, try to get us over .500, start us heading in the right direction.'
"It was, 'Go get it, I'll take care of the defense and we'll go from there.' And he went and did it."
Bryant refused to comment on Brown's criticism of his shot selection, saying only "OK" and "It's fine" when pressed on the situation.
When asked about how the Lakers could have lost on consecutive nights to teams with a combined record of 22-55, Bryant replied, "We've just got to play harder, with a little more energy to try and salvage this trip."
After the loss to the Wizards, by far the team's lowest moment of the season, sources said Brown lit into the players, calling into question their effort and challenging them to make a choice about how committed they were to the system and to chasing another championship.
Several players admitted publicly that the team had not given a consistent effort on either of the past two nights. Gasol called the loss "embarrassing with the talent that we have and the players that we have." Reserve forward Matt Barnes said the team "didn't compete."
But there was a reason Bynum seemed to be laughing as he tried to shoulder the blame for the loss. The Lakers' problems clearly stretch well beyond Bynum's nightmare (seven turnovers compared to six rebounds) or Bryant's shooting percentage.
"I tried tonight," Bynum said. "I went out and got a couple early dunks. But I didn't play much D, so I guess I kind of went through the motions myself. I could be that leader; I should step up and do that."
In some ways, Bynum was doing just that.
There is growing concern among some Lakers players as to whether first-year coach Mike Brown and his staff have the X-and-O wherewithal to fix the Lakers' struggling offense, sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Wednesday.