The main question was simple, an oft-repeated theme — Is Kobe Bryant shooting too much? — as that and other related questions flew in abundance after the Lakers practiced Monday, a day after another embarrassing loss.
Bryant acknowledged taking control of the Lakers' offense in their 104-85 loss against the Memphis Grizzlies, agreeing with Coach Phil Jackson's charge the previous night that his one-on-one mind-set took "the rest of the guys out" of the flow of the game.
Some of Bryant's teammates went further Monday, specifically Pau Gasol, yearning for more balance in an offense that had steadily worsened since the Lakers' 8-0 start.
"We all are familiar with [Bryant's] game and his ability to score and his ability to take over games. It's sometimes a double-edged sword because it can keep you in the games and even sometimes win you games, but it can also lose you games," Gasol said. "I think we're more effective and we're more successful when our offense is balanced and everybody's contributing. We all know that. We're in good shape when everybody's 10-plus points and just getting good looks because the offense will do that for you."
Gasol had six quick points against Memphis but finished with only 10 in a loss that brought boos from a Staples Center crowd unaccustomed to so many one-sided embarrassments. Bryant took 12 of the Lakers' 22 shots in the third quarter and finished the game with 28 points.
"From my perspective, maybe because I'm one of the inside guys, we should be pounding guys every night no matter what and then play off that," Gasol said. "I don't think me and Andrew [Bynum] are guys [who] will always have the need to shoot and get over 20 attempts a game, but if we can set the tone early … it keeps defenses having to adjust, and we put guys in foul trouble."
Not everybody pointed toward Bryant. In fact, Bynum blamed "Kobe-dar," his radar-derived term for when the Lakers focus too much on feeding Bryant the ball and then stand around and watch him.
Bryant, for his part, said he had no problem with Jackson's postgame comments imploring the need for more team basketball.
"He was right," Bryant said. "I totally broke the offense, but I did it intentionally because I felt like we needed to get something started because what we were doing just wasn't working. When it works out, great. When it doesn't, I take the criticism for it, but I have thick enough skin to be able to do it."
Gasol and Ron Artest sometimes chafe whenever Jackson zings them in the media. Bryant wouldn't include himself in that category.
"First of all, when you've been around Phil for as many years as I have, we all understand that he likes coaching publicly," Bryant said. "I think it's important for the new guys to understand that. Ron, Pau, guys that kind of have issues with that, that's how he coaches. It's fine. Just let him do his job and go about your business."
Even if Gasol and Bryant are at odds over what to do with the offense, it's minor compared with what gripped the Lakers on their quest for a three-peat nine years ago, when Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were polarizing figures in the locker room.
"We had some deep-seated issues. That was a very dysfunctional group," Bryant said. "This is not that."
And yet, the Lakers are 23-11, a surprising 6 1/2 games behind San Antonio and facing a mountain of work to match their 37-11 record last season through January. They'll need a 14-0 spree over the next four weeks, including victories over Dallas, Oklahoma City, Utah and Boston.
Oh, and then early next month brings a home game against San Antonio followed immediately by a seven-game trip that includes Boston, Orlando and the apparently difficult Grizzlies, who are 2-1 against the Lakers and 13-18 against everybody else.
"You just continue to punch that clock and you'll get results," Bryant said. "It looks pretty grim right now, but I like the way we're working. We worked really hard [Monday]."
Bryant hoped he wouldn't hear more boos from the recently vocal Staples Center crowd.
"They're used to seeing us play at a much higher level this time of year so, yeah, they have a right to boo," he said before mentioning a fast-food promotion that's often a small bonus for fans in attendance. "We've also fed them a lot of tacos."
In addition to the off-balance nature of the Lakers' offense, there are three other items the Lakers will need to sort out to end their malaise.
Artest's offensive woes:
He hasn't been the same since carrying the team in the first half of Game 7 against Boston. Even though he's a defense-first player, his 7.5 points per game this season is a career low, and he was scoreless Sunday while his assignment, Rudy Gay, had 27 points.
The ballhandling platoon:
Neither starting point guard Derek Fisher nor newcomer Steve Blake has hit with regularity since the Lakers' 8-0 start, shooting 37.8% and 37.7%, respectively, this season. They need to start making their shots.
The wild card in the Lakers' season, he has slowly rounded into game shape. He has played 10 games following off-season knee surgery, and he had five blocked shots against Memphis. Bynum needs to match his stats from last season (15 points, 8.3 rebounds a game) if the Lakers want to win the Western Conference.