- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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TORONTO -- The Los Angeles Lakers are one game removed from the halfway point of a season that was supposed to be a return to glory, yet their record sits at 17-23, six games under .500.
Who is to blame for this debacle?
Is it the coaching? Mike Brown already received his pink slip after guiding this new-look Lakers squad to an 0-8 preseason record, followed by a 1-4 start in the games that mattered. He and his Princeton-style offense were sent packing. Brown was certainly identified as a culprit, but the losing continued months after he left.
So, is it the new coach? Mike D'Antoni said at his introductory news conference the team would have to talk if it wasn't averaging 110 to 115 points under his system. In the 30 games since D'Antoni took over, the Lakers have scored 110 points or more just eight times, going 5-3 in those games. In the other 22 games they've played, they've allowed their opponent to score more than 100 points 14 times -- going just 1-13 -- meaning the defense has been a bigger failure than the offense.
Is it on the hard-luck case of injuries the roster has sustained, from Dwight Howard's back and shoulder to Steve Nash's leg to Pau Gasol's knees, feet and concussion to Steve Blake's abdomen and groin to Jordan Hill's hip?
Or could it be D'Antoni's inability to cater the offense to feature Gasol? Or Howard's inability to pick up how to play effective pick-and-roll with Nash quick enough? Or Nash's difficulty guarding his man on defense and reluctance to shoot on offense? Or Howard's shoddy free throw shooting and his less-than-serious demeanor? Or the Lakers' team turnovers and transition defense? Or is it general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of player personnel Jim Buss' fault for piecing together a flawed, aging roster, then failing to adjust by not bringing in any free agents or making any trades since this thing started going south?
While all of those circumstances have certainly contributed to the $100 million mess the Lakers look like these days, there's one person we haven't mentioned who wants the blame squarely on his shoulders: Kobe Bryant.
Bryant went just 10-for-32 from the field in Sunday's 108-103 loss to the lowly Toronto Raptors, a game after shooting just 8-for-25 in a nine-point loss to the Miami Heat. That's 18-for-57 over the past two games (31.6 percent). Carnival psychics are more accurate.
"That's on me," the 34-year-old Bryant said, pegging the shots that he missed short on his tired legs. "I'll take this loss on me, gladly. It was a lot of easy shots -- a lot of them -- that I should put down. I will, I will. That's just on me."
Bryant wanted more blame than just the past two losses. He says he wants the whole season's failures to rest on his shoulders.
"Everybody wants to know what's the reason, whose fault it is and this, that and the other," Bryant said. "I just made it more easy. You should just point the finger at me. Let me take all that. This way, we won't have to worry about that as a team. It's part of my responsibility. I'll take [the criticism] and we can just focus on what we do best, which is playing together and trying to figure out how to get out of this losing."
Bryant's declaration jibes with a comment he made recently, in which he said that nobody remembers why a team lost when they look back at an unsuccessful season. They just remember that they lost.
If they don't turn this season around and make a run at a playoff berth, sports fans won't just remember the Lakers' 2012-13 season as a disappointment, it will go down as one of the most spectacular flops in the history of basketball.
At that point, it won't matter if Bryant volunteers for the blame; the stench of the season will be a stain on the legacy of each and every player, coach and front-office member involved with the team.
"I just think the way we're playing is not conducive to winning," D'Antoni said glumly after the game. "We got a lot of issues. Offensively, the ball sticks, and we don't take very good shots. Offensively, we struggle. And then defensively, ups and downs. We forget guys. Overall, [we are] just not [playing] real well."
The "not very good shots" comment can be applied to Bryant, as can the defensive ups and downs, since Bryant's Doberman-like defense just wasn't there on Sunday. After shutting down Cleveland's Kyrie Irving and Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings last week, Dwyane Wade went off for 27 points when he was guarded primarily by Bryant and Toronto's Jose Calderon (22 points on 9-for-15 shooting, nine assists) and Landry Fields (18 points on 8-for-11), also were hardly phased by Bryant checking them.
"He is a great all-around player and he can play great defense," Calderon said. "But maybe they aren't used to guarding so many screen-and-rolls."
Even with the subpar outing by Bryant, Fields still referred to him as "one of the top two players of all time, arguably."
But the Lakers' woes can't be explained just saying that an all-time great is playing below his skill level.
"I thought our effort was spotty and a little lazy cutting corners," said Nash (16 points, nine assists), whose Canadian homecoming was spoiled.
Accepting Bryant's explanation for what's gone wrong in Laker Land would be cutting corners again. It's not that simple -- especially because Bryant hedged on his claim for the blame, indirectly dragging management into it.
"Unless they're going to do something roster-wise, I got to continue to push through it," Bryant said. "If this is what we're rolling with, then I can't make excuses. I got to go out there and do my job."
The statement was unprovoked. No reporter asked Bryant about the Lakers needing to make a trade or sign a free agent.
"There's no words of, 'OK, we just change it around,'" D'Antoni said when asked what he was trying to relay in the huddles when he called timeout after timeout Sunday. "It's not words. It's action."
We'll see if the Lakers can act any differently in the second half of the season and start to look and play like winners. If not, there won't be enough blame in the world to go around.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Kobe Bryant wants to take all the blame for the Los Angeles Lakers' failures, but it's not that simple.