Monday, May 21, 2012

Lakers Nasty Infighting

The LA Lakers are fighting for their lives tonight in the playoffs, down 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Meanwhile there's another nasty fight going on--among the Lakers.

According to a source close to one of the players, the squabbling between Kobe Bryant and the rest of  the team has escalated. It was bad, he said, during the Denver series, but got worse during the Thunder games. Quite simply, the others players resent Kobe's "emperor" attitude. Apparently he's placed himself on a pedestal and, dealing with the other players, is cold, distant and very critical, while unwilling to accept criticism. He can dish out barbs but he won't take them. So the team, according to the source, is constantly grappling with tension and ill-will, all Kobe related.

The team, noted the source, puts on a good show for the public. Though some media members are well aware of the bad feelings between Kobe and the other Lakers, they choose to present the team as one big happy family.

Well, it's not.

The tension leaked out to the public after the loss to the Thunder Saturday night, when Kobe Bryant, in a media conference, zinged Pau Gasol. In the last minute of that loss, when the Lakers blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead, Gasol, near the basket, ignored an open shot and made a horrible pass, setting up a Kevin Durant three-pointer with about 14 seconds left that cinched the 103-100 victory. Clearly Kobe was disgusted with Gasol and didn't try to hide it. Gasol wasn't happy with the way he was publicly abused. In the post-game locker room, according to the source, the Lakers and Kobe were arguing. Bad will, he said, was everywhere. But that's nothing new.

Here's what's at the root of the tension between Bryant and his teammates. The transfer of power, from Kobe to Andrew Bynum, hasn't been smooth. Kobe sees it happening, but won't accept it. Bynum, who doesn't really care about team politics, is apparently oblivious to the Lakers' emotional mess. This situation, says the source, seems to be getting progressively worse and may spill over into next season.

The question, of course, is can a team that's so aggressively engaged in infighting win? Yes, but when everyone is on good terms, it's much easier. The Lakers blew two critical, close games to Oklahoma City. The Lakers could easily be up 3-1. If Kobe and his teammates were in a more cooperative mode might that have made a difference in those two losses?