"You can train a cat all you want to bark; the damn cat's not going to bark."
After watching his Los Angeles Lakers fall by 35 points to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kobe Bryant did not seem sad or depressed. Instead, he spoke glowingly about Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and spoke in no uncertain terms about his team not being able to .
This wasn't a challenge.
Bryant wasn't trying to call out his teammates in the hopes that they put together a winning streak and salvage yet another lost season. For starters, the Lakers have not won two games in a row during the 2015-16 NBA season, so calling for a winning streak would be beyond delusional.
Before the game, two travelling Lakers' beat writers were split on whether the Lakers would win two games in a row at any point this season. More than a third of the way through the basketball calendar, this team isn't a salvageable project. Bryant's sparks of greatness, which have been surprisingly consistent lately, provide the mini magic explosions that distract the audience from the sunken ship that is the Lakers.
"You have to be realistic about what we're facing: where we are as a team, as an organization," Bryant responded when asked how he's smiling through the losses—24 losses in 29 games to be exact. "You can train a cat all you want to bark; the damn cat's not going to bark."
Bryant added, "There's no sense in yelling at it."
Bryant has no illusions about what he's dealing with at this stage. A 19-year-old rookie point guard does not instantly become an All-Star in the NBA. A 21-year-old "second-year" lottery pick that missed all but 14 minutes of his rookie season still does not have experience winning games in the NBA. Julius Randle is probably slightly ahead of schedule due to his developed body, and D'Angelo Russell doesn't even have a schedule as yet.
The Lakers are still too raw.
Jordan Clarkson impressed during the latter half of his rookie season because he had the ball in his hands and made scoring and passing plays based on intelligent reads and studying defensive coverages. The Lakers lost a franchise record 61 games that season. In his sophomore season, Clarkson started out playing more off-the-ball but still remained the Lakers' most consistent player to start the season. The 23-year-old combo guard has a future in the NBA, but he is still not the best player on the Lakers.
A 37-year-old Bryant is LA's best player on both ends of the court (ask Will Barton).
As impressive as that may sound, it is incredibly sad. Four of the Lakers' five wins this season have featured Bryant putting on improbable performances, and the fifth win came against a win-less Brooklyn Nets team that, frankly, lost the game on its own (Brooklyn got a 5-second violation on a late in-bounds play to gift the game to LA).
After Brooklyn, Bryant played 36 minutes and recorded a near triple-double with 17 points, nine assists and eight rebounds to beat Detroit for LA's second win of the season. Two and a half weeks later, Bryant scored 31 points in Washington D.C. to edge out a Washington Wizards team one night after losing to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers had not won before that game and they have not won since, which reinforced that the Lakers, even with Bryant, can look like the worst team in the NBA.
About two weeks after the win in D.C., the Lakers beat the Milwaukee Bucks with no. 24 scoring 22 points and dishing six assists in three quarters. The Lakers led by 20 points, so Bryant never came back in for the fourth quarter.
With his legs back in shape and his shot finding its target, Bryant only needed a week to get LA its next victory. In Denver, Bryant scored 31 points again, and he took on the burden of winning the game late—just as he had done in Washington D.C. Against the Nuggets, Barton scored 23 points in the first half before Bryant switched onto the scorer and held him to one basket in the second half.
When Bryant has missed games, the Lakers have somehow looked worse. Without no. 24 in the lineup, the Lakers have lost by an average of 18.5 points per game, though the 40-point loss to Oklahoma City skews that statistic slightly.
The reality is that Bryant cannot win 40 games by himself when he's "almost 40," which is how he referred to himself on Wednesday night. The truth is that the Lakers aren't going to suddenly start winning games this year: "You can train a cat all you want to bark; the damn cat's not going to bark."
So, at this point, there's no sense in yelling at them.