It has been a really tough season for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers have dealt with numerous injuries, but the biggest problem has been the inability of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard to come together and learn how to play the right way with each other.
However, they might have stumbled on something the last few games, including a huge win over Oklahoma City this past weekend. It all started with a closed-door meeting in Memphis where the players were able to air their grievances and speak their mind. The Lakers are 2-0 since that time and their new offense revolves around Kobe Bryant as a facilitator. Bryant is averaging 14 assists per game in his last two games and his shots are down. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but maybe the Lakers are starting to figure things out as they try to find a way to scratch and claw their way back into the playoff picture.
Kobe Bryant joined ESPN Radio in Los Angeles with Max and Marcellus to talk about what has changed for the Lakers recently, whether he spoke to Mike D’Antoni about changing his style of play, whether he felt like he needed to change and adjust his game to be more of a facilitator, what he has to do as the leader of the team to get things to change, what the toughest part of the season has been for L.A. and how his relationship with Dwight Howard is in comparison to his relationship with Shaquille O’Neal when they played together.
What has changed for the Lakers recently:
“I think it’s trying to figure out how to best utilize all of our pieces. We all come into this situation having done different things in the past and that has to kind of go out the window, just try to figure out as the season goes on through injuries, through coaching changes, how to best put these pieces in the proper alignment.”
Whether he spoke to Coach D’Antoni about changing the style of play:
“That’s something that I spoke to him about a little bit, I felt like we needed to minimize possessions. I felt like having so many possessions put too much strain on our defense, and we’re not the fastest team in the world, nor the youngest. When you play so many possessions you wind up having spells where your defense looks very good and then you have a two-minute lull there where a team busts you open, so I think we’re just kind of making an adjustment and he was very open to it. He said obviously we need to change things up and that’s what we did.”
Whether he felt like he needed to change and adjust his game to be more of a facilitator:
“Oh for sure. It was a matter of trying to figure out what I could do to best help us be successful. I watch a lot of film and I’m sure you have in your career, you watch a lot of film and break down things, over-analyze, be extremely critical of yourself and try to look at the others around you and try to figure out what’s making them tick and how to put them in positions to be successful. And this is a role I played in the triangle offense with Phil (Jackson) for years, but in the triangle my role was more of a conductor, an orchestrator. In this system you wind up spoon-feeding guys more so than putting us in the right situation.”
What do you have to do as a leader to get things to change:
“You have to create conflict and confrontation. A lot of times when you have people that are in those positions, everybody is kind of tiptoeing around each other and everybody is afraid to rub each other the wrong way. Just kind of want to do things because it’s politically correct to do things and politically correct to say things, and you wind up not advancing, you wind up being counter-productive. You really have to challenge each other and I think you put the pieces of the puzzle together that way.”
What has been the toughest part of this season for the Lakers:
“I think it’s all been very tough. I think patience has been the hardest thing to have. When you get in a situation where it just feels like it’s miserable and nothing is going right, you have times where maybe you react irrationally or not think realistically. You have to be able to step outside of yourself, analyze the situation for what it is from a basketball standpoint and go from there. Patience has really been something that has been tough.”
On his attitude toward Dwight Howard in comparison with his relationship with Shaq when they were together:
“I think in the situation with me and Shaq, I think he had things that he wanted to accomplish in terms of his legacy and his perception of the game, and my emergence, he kind of saw that as a threat a little bit and wanted to keep me at arm’s distance. But that conflict we had actually taught me a valuable lesson in terms of the edginess and the competitiveness it did for our team and the energy that it created. Once we had that conflict and this, that and the other, he and I came on the same page. You saw that energy absolutely change the team and now we generated so much momentum from he and I becoming on the same page that it just carried us throughout the playoffs. At the same time, because I went through that, I’m much more sensitive towards younger player’s feelings. I’m more sensitive towards Dwight Howard and what he may be going through, but at the same time you still try to keep that edge and drive that hard bargain.”
When he thinks things started to change for L.A. and Dwight Howard:
“I think after our closed-door meeting that everybody knows about in Memphis. For a young player, it’s tough because you come to a market like Los Angeles that has had so many dominant big men who have all these records and accomplishments and he wants to feel a part of that. And he has the talent to do so, and it was a little frustrating for him because he wanted to come and get all these touches, score all these points, rebound and instead he is hearing nothing but criticism from the media and from fans about his play here. That can be very, very tough particularly for a younger player to kind of push to the side and say it’s not about me, it’s about us and it’s tough.”
Listen to Kobe Bryant on ESPN L.A. here (Interview begins at 15:10)