Lakers teammates Pau Gasol, left, Kobe Bryant, center, and Andrew Bynum… (Tony Gutierrez / Associated…)
Another day, another drama for the Lakers.
Which seems to be just the way they like it.
Their emotions seemed to have steadied after an insistent Kobe Bryant on Sunday demanded that management clarify its trade intentions regarding Pau Gasol. Bryant and Fisher led a locker room discussion after the Lakers routed Portland on Monday and everyone seemed settled. "Relatively speaking," Fisher said, knowing that might be as settled as they get.
Then on Wednesday, before the Lakers' first visit to American Airlines Center since the Dallas Mavericks mercilessly swept them out of the playoffs last spring, Magic Johnson stirred the emotional pot.
No longer an owner of the Lakers but still a vice president — and influential enough for his biography to precede General Manager Mitch Kupchak's in the team's media guide — Johnson told reporters during a conference call that Kupchak doesn't run things and that the real decision maker is Jim Buss.
Johnson suggested Bryant should meet with Buss and not only didn't criticize Bryant for speaking out on Gasol's behalf, he offered praise. "I'm proud of Kobe," Johnson said.
Johnson had to know he was adding fuel to a combustible situation. Predictably, the Lakers responded to the latest drama — some of it manufactured when they missed six consecutive free throws late in the fourth quarter — by clawing out a 96-91 victory.
"I don't know how many times that's going to happen," Andrew Bynum said of the missed free throws. "I would love to know what the odds were on that."
The Lakers thrive on conflict and drama and have for years. Tension and turmoil are normal to them, and their victories over Portland and Dallas since Bryant spoke up indicate they're responding positively.
Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal didn't get along but won three titles together. Bryant asked to be traded in 2007 but stayed to win two more titles. Since Mike Brown replaced Phil Jackson as coach, players have been testing his authority to learn how much they can get away with, but he has held firm. Metta World Peace didn't think he was playing enough. Bynum thought the team practiced too much.
It's one soap opera after another.
"Those are the things that come with the job and being in L.A.," Fisher said. "The highs and lows are a little bit larger through the glass for people to view. Just about about every team deals with something similar."
But not quite like this.
"You set a certain bar and people expect you to live at that level," Fisher said. "Whether it's Tiger Woods or the New England Patriots or whoever you want to say. Once you have success, there's a certain level of expectation that comes with it. It kind of comes with the territory for us and the history and tradition of this organization.
"We're in the fishbowl for now. In 10 years there will be another group of guys that will go through the same things that come with being on the Lakers."
For Brown, a veteran of the LeBron James Show, conflict is nothing new.
"I was in Cleveland for five years. There was a little bit of drama there," he said, laughing. "Especially my last year.
"It's part of the business, you know. I'm OK with it. Everybody's human and everybody talks and it's just part of life, part of the NBA. So I'm OK with whatever comes in front of me."
But he agreed that drama could become the Lakers' rallying point.
"I think it's all human nature, not just in sports but in real life," he said. "We had some drama in my family about a week ago and my wife and I got it straight with our son and I'll tell you what, it's been terrific ever since.
"It could. I don't know. I don't think it always works that way. But there is nothing wrong with a little bit of drama every once in a while."
Brown wouldn't elaborate on his family situation, but he has enough crises to deal with at work.
"We're doing such a great job of providing off-the-court drama right now," Fisher said Wednesday, "so we just had to follow it up with on-the-court drama. We just felt we had a responsibility to the people."
Until the next game and next crisis, anyway.