HANG TIME WEST — Nothing has changed. The Lakers are still very much a work in progress, now at 0-3 with a 105-95 loss to the faster, deeper Clippers stacked on top of everything else, Kobe Bryant is still basically right from the other day, and the intra-arena matchup is still building into a real rivalry even without a playoff series as a usual requisite to qualify as competitive bad blood.
Check that. One thing did change Friday night at Staples Center.
The calls for coach Mike Brown to be fired got louder and more frequent.
Not that it will be taken into account by the panicked masses, but this was different than losing to the Mavericks without Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman and then to the Trail Blazers, heavy favorites for the lottery. Steve Nash was in street clothes with a leg injury, a setback for the night and for the big picture because what Nash and the Lakers need most is time together to work out the grinding offense. Plus, the Clippers are good. Good enough to beat the Lakers with both teams at full strength, good enough to finish higher in the standings and go longer in the playoffs.
It apparently won’t even be taken into account within the Lakers locker room – Bryant told a group of reporters after dropping to 0-3 for the first time in 34 years that “We’re hitting the panic button now.” And Brown, as quoted by Greg Beacham of the Associated Press, was equally frank: “We need a win, obviously. I’m not trying to fool anyone. That’s why Kobe played the (43) minutes he did, which is too many.”
It was immediately unclear whether Bryant was serious or more hitting the sarcasm button late Friday night. The first option is possible given the direction, but the second is as realistic given his comments one day before and 180 degrees away.
After practice Thursday, Bryant was asked if he is surprised the way the Lakers started.
“I’m always surprised when I lose, but at the same time, it’s pretty entertaining to me,” he replied. “Nobody wants to win here more than I do. Nobody, nobody. I’m not panicking or jumping off a bridge because we’re 0-2. It is a process, but we have to approach the process with a sense of urgency. Just because we have this talented roster, we want it to happen. But we have to push for it to happen.”
He was asked about criticism toward Brown’s offense.
“I don’t understand,” Bryant said. “(The city) has seen us win multiple championships here, playing an offense that is tough to learn, that had a sequence of options and took five guys being on the same page working together. They know how that stuff works, so for them to be so stupid now and say: ‘Well, let Steve dribble the ball around and create opportunities for everybody, let Dwight (Howard) post up or let me (isolate)… it’s not idiotic but it’s close.”
He was asked about the growing number of Brown’s critics.
“I can say it because I’ve won,” Bryant responded. “It might be tough for (Mike Brown) to say it, but I’ll say it for him: ‘Everybody, shut up.’ Let us work and at the end of the day, you’ll be happy with the results as you normally are.”
One additional loss before Thanksgiving does not shake Bryant from the certainty of “stupid” and near “idiotic” and “Everybody, shut up” to searching for the panic button. That’s not him.
Just as importantly, it’s not management either. Unlike some owners and executives, the group at the top of the Lakers masthead will care not at all that fans are taking to the streets with tar and feathers. The Buss family and GM Mitch Kupchak have faced a lot of crisis moments through the years, and this isn’t one of them.
If Brown hasn’t lost the locker room, he hasn’t lost his job, and a veteran roster understood going in as well as anyone that this was always going to take time. Three games is not time. It’s just close to idiotic.