Philadelphia, PA – As if a team that started the season with legitimate championship hopes falling to a 15-18 record wasn't bad enough, things are really starting to crumble in the world of the Los Angeles Lakers.
They have lost four of five games and reports are surfacing of trouble in LA- LA Land.
The New York Daily News reported that following a New Year's Day loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard got into a little tiff.
The report says that Bryant brought up Shaquille O'Neal's criticism of Howard being soft. The Daily News also stated that Howard had to be restrained from going after Bryant.
Everyone involved has denied it. Of course.
We don't know for sure unless someone confirms it, but team basketball is not being played in the Laker Land.
In their three losses in a row, Bryant has attempted at least 10 more shots than anyone else in a Lakers jersey. That's expected for a superstar, but there are three other stars wearing the yellow, purple and white.
Bryant has his own theory about the problems the Lakers have.
After the Sixers defeat, Bryant was asked what has been the problem for the Lakers. He replied, "Cause we're old as (expletive)." They are old and Bryant's frustrations may be manifesting themselves in the form of profanity. He's been good for a almost a curse word per interview. It's like he's auditioning for a Tarantino movie.
After the Clippers loss, Howard had a simple philosophy about what is wrong with the Lakers: "We have to learn to share the ball. I think that's the difference between our team and their's. They just play together, share the ball. Everybody's excited when something happens. We have to get to that to be a great team."
That's not where the Lakers envisioned themselves inching up to the halfway point - trying their best to become the Clippers.
Now, there's the reported dustup. Howard will be undergoing an MRI for a sore shoulder and, after a Sunday loss to the Denver Nuggets, it looked to be bothersome. He had more iced packed on his shoulder than a frat goes through keeping the keg cold at a toga party.
Any significant injury to Howard would be a problem. He is the only thing keeping the Lakers from surrendering 125 points a game. Against the Nuggets, Howard had 26 rebounds and four blocked shots. Your shoulder would ache, too, if you had to pull down that many rebounds.
And, yes, Bryant is shooting a lot and Howard is trying to preach team basketball, but both are trying to do what they think is necessary for the Lakers to win some games.
Pau Gasol has been pathetic this season. Blame head coach Mike D'Antoni's system if you'd like, but the fact is Gasol is averaging 12.2 ppg. That's a career-low by almost five points.
Steve Nash is averaging 10.2 ppg. That is his lowest production scoring-wise since the 1999-2000 season.
Lest we forget, the Lakers already canned head coach Mike Brown about a half- hour into the season. D'Antoni would probably be on the block if it wouldn't be such a joke.
To make matters worse, or much pressure-filled, there were chants of "We want Phil!" echoing through the Staples Center late in the Denver loss.
Basically, this season has become a disaster of biblical proportions.
"We've just got to stay together," Howard said. "We can't point the finger at anybody. It's a team thing."
Howard's point is valid. Bryant shoots a lot, but he's also carried the Lakers to two championships post-Shaq. There is no flow to the Lakers offense, but that pales in comparison to the bigger problems.
Bryant's point is valid about their age. The Lakers are slower than Christmas Eve mass. They don't get out on shooters, don't communicate on defense, don't get back on defense and are fifth-worst in the league in opponents' scoring.
Howard is a defensive force and Metta World Peace is still decent on that side of the ball, but Nash is atrocious and Bryant is getting older. Defensively, Bryant's solid, but the Lakers are in desperate need of an athletic infusion.
How do they get that?
The obvious answer is to move Howard. Every loss that goes by and every alleged near melee in the locker room inches Howard away from Los Angeles and closer to Dallas, Brooklyn or Atlanta.
Howard said before the season he'd wait until after the season to discuss a contract extension. You can read between the lines that he wanted to see how the Los Angeles experiment went before committing.
And it doesn't take a scientist to figure out this is not working.
So, can the Lakers move Howard? Sure, they could. L.A. could send him to Atlanta for his best friend Josh Smith and another piece like Kyle Korver. Would that help? Probably, but it would be a pretty large admission of failure.
Gasol could be traded and his psyche is fragile. You could get a more athletic big man for him for sure, but his contract ($38 million over this season and next) is a big anchor.
The best course is to stay the course. There's entirely too much talent, veteran talent, for this to be the Titanic. The reality of catching the Clippers or Golden State Warriors is dwindling, but the playoffs aren't out of reach. Would the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder want to see the Lakers in the first round?
Bryant would answer that with a "(expletive) no!"
This season has been tumultuous to say the least. It's only 33 games deep. It's been a horrendous 33 games, but D'Antoni has to get a leash on this thing quickly.
Falling five or six under .500 might make things hairy for a playoff bid. The schedule is not great coming up. They visit the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, then host the Thunder and Miami on the horizon.
The onus might not fall on D'Antonio anymore. Bryant needs to get this group together. Insulting Howard is not the way to do it. Genuine leadership is needed now. If it doesn't come from Bryant, then Nash may have to assume the role, but someone needs to get this in order, stat.
There's too much talent to waste on selfishness and childishness.
- The Royce White saga is getting worse. He has been suspended by the Houston Rockets and it's starting to get a feel that he may not ever play in the NBA.
- P.J. Carlesimo has gotten a lot out of the Brooklyn Nets since he assumed head coach duties. The Nets are 4-1 and one of those victories was an impressive one in Oklahoma City. The other four are against Charlotte, Cleveland, Washington and Sacramento, so let's remember that. Carlesimo has rubbed people the wrong way with his style in the past and I doubt he's the long-term solution, no matter what general manager Billy King says. Phil Jackson or any immediate member of the Van Gundy family has to be at the top of the list. With owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets can afford a high-profile coach and he wants to make a splash.
- I still can't figure out why Carmelo Anthony isn't the MVP favorite yet. He scored 40 against the Orlando Magic on Saturday night, but 16 came in the fourth quarter when the Knicks were trailing by eight. That's impact performance. LeBron James, or Kevin Durant, or Chris Paul are considered the favorites by most, but Anthony still gets my vote.
- Kevin Love re-broke his hand and will be for a while. The Minnesota Timberwolves are the most injured team in the NBA.
- Why won't Brandon Roy just retire already?
- Dirk Nowitzki's comments about the future of the Dallas Mavericks were revealing. They did ditch money (especially not re-signing Tyson Chandler after the title run of 2011) in an effort to get Deron Williams or Howard. So far, no good. It's a fair criticism.
- Movie moment - Want the most underrated of the 2000s "Apatow" comedies? It's "Superbad." Michael Cera and Jonah Hill are as good at high-schoolers as anyone in recent memory, despite the fact Hill is probably 25 or so, and the movie has at least five laugh-out-loud moments, which is actually a lot. I defy you to watch when the liquor store gets robbed and McLovin gets hit and not make some type of noise.
- TV moment - The single craziest show I've witnessed on television is "Catfish" on MTV. It allows people to meet in person who've had an Internet relationship. The one I watched was about one young lady who created a man just to get another young lady to fall in love with him. See, the second lady, the one in love, messed with the other's man a year or so before, so she naturally created a human being online, just to screw with the other. Wild. Horribly deflating for a society, but wild television.