Kobe Bryant's differing leadership styles have had mixed results during the 2010-11 season
Judging by Kobe Bryant's body language and attitude, it would've been quite hard to tell the Lakers were struggling.
But obviously the media and fans watch the games. They notice the Lakers' season-long inconsistency hit another low note heading into the All-Star break with an embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They see the Lakers (38-19) continuing to lack a firm hold on the Western Conference with 25 games remaining in the regular season. They trail the conference-leading San Antonio Spurs (46-10) by 8 1/2 games. The Lakers only hold a 1 1/2-game cushion over the Oklahoma City Thunder (35-19). And with Bryant's recent flu, on-court frustrations and media boycotts during this last week, it's fair to conclude his blood is boiling about the Lakers' state of play.
It would've been hard to tell, however, by strictly judging the persona he shared with reporters Friday at the J.W. Marriott in L.A. Live. Consider the following line of questioning from various reporters.
"Do you know why you guys are struggling right now?"
"Can you share it?"
"Is it fixable?"
"Going forward, do you have doubt you can get back to the level of playing?"
"Does some of the luster go away because of what's going on with the team??
Bryant let out a laugh and then said, "No."
"What is going on with the team?"
"When are you going to get better?"
The persistent questioning and vague answers have become quite customary between Bryant and the media, but what's interesting is the way he delivers the message. The video below reveals he appeared light-hearted Friday. Though he was willing to be more expansive about other topics, such as his six-minute Nike commercial, being a 14-time NBA All-Star and what Blake Griffin brings to the Clippers, his body language didn't change one bit when he went to short-answer mode on topics involving the state of the Lakers. It's another example of Bryant's continuously tinkering approach to his leadership style, one that's come with mixed results.
It's been an ongoing adjustment this season for Bryant on knowing where to pick his spots and what reaction is most appropriate. He was consistently even-keeled through the November, maintaining the same stoic and hungry demeanor after a win or loss. He even smiled after co-capitan Derek Fisher laced into the team's complacency after a mail-it-in win against Minnesota that brought their record to 8-0.
"I don't want to be too harsh," Bryant said at the time. "We've blown out good teams this year. We've blown out bad teams this year. We've blown everybody out. We had a tough game [against Minnesota], but we're OK."
But that all went out the window following the Lakers' Christmas Day loss to Miami, when he publicly criticized the team and vowed to "kick ... in practice," something he's rarely done all season. The fact the Lakers didn't show up for a marquee game illustrated in Bryant's mind that the team feels satisfied with two championship rings and that certain teammates aren't viewing the game as the most important thing in their lives. He continued that approach, albeit in a subtle manner, when the Lakers' struggles continued, capped off by a double-digit loss to Memphis. At that point, he encouraged the media to criticize the team, believing the "doom-and-gloom stories," as he put it, would spark a fire. His wish was granted, with the usual analysis along with reports on Ron Artest confronting Phil Jackson and others that revealed a few Lakers, including Pau Gasol, showed up late to a shootaround.
Bryant's leadership style hasn't just consisted of badgering his teammates, though his 10 technical fouls and on-court frustration shows that's reverted to that form from time to time. Bryant also provided a dose of encouragement to his teammates, responding with calls for better ball movement with the willingness to facilitate. Bryant epitomized that the best with Gasol, whom Bryant told to be more aggressive in the post. The speech helped spur Gasol to having his best statistical month of the season, averaging 21.6 points on 59.3% shooting so far in February.
"He's at a great point," Gasol said. "He's on top of the mountain. He's done pretty well for himself."
Will that translate into the Lakers performing better after the All-Star break? For now, Bryant will share his vague criticism with a smile, that is until a different approach becomes necessary.
"We don't have a choice," Bryant simply said when asked if the Lakers will improve. "Got to."
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