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Kobe Bryant had a front-row seat, not that Lakers star wanted it

Kobe Bryant's benching by Coach Mike Brown during a key fourth-quarter stretch in Sunday's loss to Memphis remains a puzzlement a day later. As for any long-term repercussions, that remains to be seen.

March 26, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan

It was fascinating to watch Kobe Bryant in a place so foreign to him.

He glanced at Lakers Coach Mike Brown. Then he looked at the scoreboard. Glanced at Brown again. Back to the scoreboard. Planted his chin under his hand. Waited, waited, waited.

Nobody was more surprised than Bryant to be at the end of the bench for four of the final six minutes in the Lakers' 102-96 loss Sunday to Memphis.

Fans chanted his name. Staples Center seemed stunned. He sat with a blank look, one towel over his back and another over his knees.

Bryant later said he was "of course" upset at being such a small part of a game that was still in the balance. The Lakers were down 14 when he took a seat with 5 minutes 45 seconds to play, exactly seven seconds after he rushed a 15-foot turnaround jump shot.

The big question: What's next for Bryant and Brown?

Bryant was quiet in the locker room immediately after the game, according to some of his teammates. He certainly wasn't seething when he talked to reporters half an hour later.

Bryant acknowledged he was irritated but refused to publicly chastise the first-year coach, saying, "I've had his back the whole season. I can't start doing something crazy now. It doesn't make any sense."

Bryant was Brown's advocate earlier this season, seeming fine with the challenge of working with a new coaching staff after Phil Jackson's departure.

"Phil and I talked a lot less. He just nodded or whatever," Bryant said back in December. "Coach Brown and I have open discussions all the time."

Don't misunderstand Bryant. He and Jackson needed each other, and thrived with each other.

If anything, Brown is known as an over-communicator.

At a team meeting this month in Minneapolis, Bryant complained about the length and frequency of video sessions and team get-togethers. According to one player, Bryant even said it wasn't "how championship teams" would go about their business.

Players differed in their opinions of what happened Sunday.

Andrew Bynum, who had 30 points, said there was "something [coaches] wanted to prove" with the benching. Almost none of the Lakers, including Bryant, played well defensively, allowing the Grizzlies to shoot 51%.

Ramon Sessions, who had 18 points, was less ominous.

"I think [Bryant] played the whole third quarter and some of the fourth, so Coach was trying to get his legs under him," Sessions said. "And it happened to be toward the end of the game."

Afterward, Brown said he felt the need to substitute for Bryant, declining to go into specific detail.

"Not one particular thing," he said. "Went with Metta [World Peace] for a couple minutes and then tried to go back to him. Obviously, it didn't work."

Bryant finished with 18 points, more than 10 below his average, on seven-for-15 shooting. Tony Allen, his assignment most of the game, had only six fewer points.

When Bryant returned with 1:51 left, the Lakers trailed by seven after two free throws by Pau Gasol.

But then Allen hit a long jump shot in front of the Lakers' bench.

Bryant was supposed to be guarding him.

Not long after that, Allen blocked Bryant's only shot after he reentered, a dunk attempt with 34.6 seconds left.

Bryant wasn't playing great defense. He also dribbled into traps in the corner on a couple of occasions.

He actually tried to reenter the game with about three minutes left and headed to the scorer's table, but the game went uninterrupted for more than a minute and Bryant eventually returned to the bench, realizing there would be a TV timeout with the next whistle.

During that break, Bryant left the Lakers' huddle while coaches drew up schemes. He has done that in past games, sometimes even sitting on the padded part of the scorer's table to visualize an upcoming play, though this time he stood near the top of the key.

The Lakers did not practice Monday before taking off for the Bay Area. Players were not available to the media, which happens sometimes on travel days. The Lakers play at Golden State on Tuesday night.

After Bryant finished taking reporters' questions Sunday night, he quickly left the locker room, grabbed a sports drink from a trainer without breaking stride and posed for a picture with a child outside the locker room.

Then he disappeared through a side door with two of his bodyguards, destination unknown.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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