While the Lakers have seen their fair share of issues during the last few weeks, any similarities between this swoon and those plaguing Lakers teams of the early and mid-2000's (at least some of those worth worrying about) are purely coincidental. "We had some deep-seeded issues on that team," Kobe Bryant said after practice Monday afternoon in El Segundo. "That was a very dysfunctional group. This is not that."
A disappointment for those devoted to high drama, clashing egos, and postseason literature, but happy news for everyone else.
"It looks pretty grim right now," Kobe continued, perhaps underselling things a little following three losses by 19, 16, and 19 points (with a 15 point loss to San Antonio mashed in as well) over the team's last four home games, "but I like the way we're working." Almost by definition, Kobe seemed to say, this will end better than that.
With questions of history put to bed for the time being, it was time for the rest of the day's business. Front and center was a quiet conclusion to KobeHadToScrewUpTheGameGate. Read all about it here. Interestingly enough, only hours after delivering a message that wasn't (or at least was misinterpreted and lost in the ensuing dust up), Phil Jackson delivered a different one, this time indisputably intentional.
After a sentence or two responding to my question about the challenges of coaching a team pushing for a third straight title, P.J. clearly saw an opening. "We're a little afraid that some of the outside activity is an element that may be distracting them. I never thought that would happen. I thought we had professional guys, but maybe it is. People bring reports in, or talk about it, but I just don't usually weigh that."
So... care to get specific, Phil?
"I won't name names, but I think that really one of the markings of what we do is try to get people that are professional, which is really about business, and about attending to basketball first."
I'll guess Jackson is speaking most specifically about Ron Artest, quickly evolving into something of a pop culture Zelig. Or maybe Lamar Odom, who has a full plate but is also playing arguably the best basketball of his career. Who really knows? The team is filled with busy guys, and the value of this sort of vague-yet-pointed criticism is the ability cover a lot more territory without actually calling one guy out. Everyone, at least in theory, gets something to think about.
Jackson has referenced concerns about distractions more than once, but Monday seemed more pointed and biting. Questioning a player's professionalism, even when not by name, is serious. But more than anything, it was an interesting contrast to Sunday's postgame, a great example of less intentional vs. more intentional message delivery via media.
For more from Monday's practice, seen by all as intense, spirited, and heavy on running, click below the jump for video from Jackson, Bryant, Odom, Pau Gasol, and Derek Fisher.