PHOENIX >> The Los Angeles Lakers’ worst performance of the season set the stage for Kobe Bryant to take aim at his team’s management, a clear signal that all is not well for the perennial power out West.
The issue that surfaced after the Lakers lost to the Phoenix Suns 102-90 on Sunday night was teammate Pau Gasol, and whether he is about to be traded.
Bryant, who brought up the subject himself without any prompting, used a couple of profanities to emphasize how strongly he feels.
"It’s just tough for a player to give his all when you don’t know if you’re going to be here tomorrow," Bryant said. "So I’d rather them not trade him at all. If they were going to do something, I wish they would just … do it. If they’re not going to do it, come out and say you’re not going to do it."
The Lakers trailed 63-40 at the half and were down by as many as 27 early in the third quarter Sunday. Bryant, who scored 32, tried to bring the Lakers back. They cut it to 10 late in the fourth quarter but got no closer. Gasol finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Bryant was just 1 of 8 on 3-pointers and committed 10 turnovers. He said afterward that it’s tough for players to get emotionally up for games every night. That led to his comments about Gasol.
"It’s hard for Pau because of all this trade talk and stuff," Bryant said. "It’s hard for him to kind of invest himself completely or immerse himself completely into games when he’s hearing trade talk every other day."
Things have not gone smoothly for the Lakers since they were swept out of the playoffs by eventual NBA champion Dallas last season. Coach Phil Jackson retired, and Mike Brown replaced him. The triangle offense was gone and the Lakers were re-designed as a defense-oriented team.
Then just before the season, the Lakers pulled the trigger on a three-team trade that would have sent Gasol to New Orleans and Chris Paul to Los Angeles. But NBA Commissioner David Stern nixed the deal, and in another trade, Paul wound up with the other Los Angeles team, the Clippers.
Bryant, though, said he believes the Lakers have the makings for another title run.
"I’m sure we’ll make some tweaks here and there but the foundation is here," he said. "It obviously starts with myself and Pau and the emergency of Andrew (Bynum), but you can’t have one of our pillars not knowing if he’s going to be here or not. Do something. One way or another, do something. If they trade him at least you have some type of closure, at least he gets some type of closure."
Los Angeles had won three in a row before stumbling at Phoenix. But the Lakers don’t even have the best record in their own city. At 18-13, they are two games behind the first-place Clippers in the Pacific Division and fifth in the Western Conference, just a half-game ahead of Memphis and Houston.
Still, Bryant leads the NBA in scoring at just under 29 points a game and the team turned to him to get back into Sunday night’s game.
"He was scoring and making plays for us," Brown said, "and we tried to get the ball in his hands. Is that something he can do? Yeah. But that’s a lot of pressure on one guy to make plays for everybody and then try to score the basketball, too."
Gasol had already spoken to reporters before Bryant’s rant.
"We thought we could maybe get away with playing through the motions and win," Gasol said of the Lakers’ performance, "and in the end you can’t."
Bryant said he and Gasol just want to know what the future holds.
"You just want security and a little clarity," he said. "I think that would help him out a lot, help us out a lot."