Two things remain clear regarding Kobe Bryant sitting on the bench in four of the last six minutes in the Lakers' loss Sunday to the Memphis Grizzlies.
First, Bryant was visibly upset over sitting in crunch time. He punched a bench in frustration. He left the timeout huddle. And he acknowledged that the body language validated the presumption that he wasn't happy about sitting.
Secondly, Bryant deserves lots of praise for offering this quote about Coach Mike Brown. "It's his decision to make. He's the coach. If you guys are looking for a story, I'm not going to contribute to it," he said. "I can't sit here and criticize his decisions. Leading this ball club, that's not something I can afford to do. I had his back the whole season. I can't start doing something crazy now. It would make no sense."
Everything else regarding the situation remains murky. That's why it's incredibly hard to envision what the long-term implications of this are. This could amount to nothing as early as the Lakers' game Tuesday at Golden State, because the actual substitution pattern hardly affected the outcome. It also could amount to nothing because Bryant's comments above show his understanding that he can't afford to stew over something that could distract the Lakers' focus from sharpening consistency. But it could amount to a lot. Brown's decision to keep Bryant out late in the game could send the message to both him and his teammates that no one is above him. Or it could just lead to more internal frustration.
Brown offered three variations to he just "wanted to make a sub" before admitting he hoped to rest Bryant at some point after playing the entire third quarter and fourth quarter. Yet that hardly jibed with his approach toward Bryant all season. He ranks third in the league in minutes played and even logged the entire second half and two overtimes in a win two weeks ago over Memphis.
Fans can debate all they want that Brown simply wanted to rest him because the Lakers trailed by 14 points. Then again, the Lakers had been chipping away at Memphis' double-digit lead.
Some can conclude Brown finally stood up to Bryant. But Bryant's 18-point performance on seven-of-15 shooting hardly qualifies as a bad night. Even though Bryant didn't get back on defense following a missed jumper, the Lakers' defensive problems were mostly elsewhere. Andrew Bynum grabbed only four rebounds. The entire team consistently hurt on transition defense. And the team's frontline inconsistently shut off drives to the basket.
Many may feel Brown's cryptic answers mean he's hiding something and there's something bubbling underneath the surface. Or it really could just be that Brown didn't think what he did was that big of a deal. After all, Bryant returned to the scorer's table near the 3-minute mark. He only went back to the bench after realizing an automatic timeout would come soon. That didn't happen, though until the 1:51 mark.
For all the uncertainty, however, there is one clear sign. Neither Brown nor Bryant accused the other of wrongdoing. If that were the case, this episode would've had the potential to spur larger problems. But since they didn't, no one can truly anticipate what will happen next.