The Lakers Inch Toward Self-Destruction - Wall Street Journal (blog)

Kobe Bryant is the NBA's leading scorer. Andrew Bynum's an All-Star big man averaging a double-double. And, coming off a solid win against Portland, the Los Angeles Lakers stand at 19-13, in fifth place in the West, barely trailing Dallas and their cross-town rivals the Clippers. This all sounds relatively promising—just a notch down from the recent teams that made three straight trips to the NBA Finals and twice came away champions. Yet Kobe's speaking up, Pau Gasol seems flustered and the vibe out of L.A. is that the Lakers are a mess.

Many of the issues stem from the same source: the constant trade rumors surrounding Gasol, who was almost dealt to New Orleans in the league-vetoed Chris Paul deal. Kobe has raised his voice to say that the Lakers and general manager Mitch Kupchak should either trade Gasol or be done with it. Of course, that isn't how the pro sports business works—see Howard, Dwight. Kupchak has gone so far as to state publicly that his obligation is to be open to trades for Gasol, and coach Mike Brown has separated himself from the whole situation by basically admitting he has nothing to do with personnel decisions.

But if a column by CBS Sports's Ken Berger is any indication, what ails the Lakers goes far beyond the Gasol spat. Berger reports that the Lakers and executive vice president Jim Buss have fired nearly all personnel attached to former head coach Phil Jackson, including training staff and front office people. Also, their team of college scouts has raised eyebrows around the league: there is, Berger says, the qualified Ryan West, son of Lakers legend Jerry West; Jesse Buss, whose main qualification seems to be that he's the son of the team's owner; and, most intriguingly, Charles Osborne, who goes by Chaz and is a great bartender—and that's all anyone knows about him.

"The real motivation behind Bryant going public was to shed light on the dysfunctional, borderline comical way the Lakers are handling their basketball business and hope it prompts someone to fix it," Berger writes. "So here it is: The Lakers' front office is an uncommunicative, rudderless fiasco, and the unrest and paranoia that have been festering for years threaten to derail the team's plans to ride Bryant to his sixth NBA title while they still can." Berger says he was unable to get responses to his claims from the team. (We'll update with any comment we get from them.) Regardless, it'll be interesting to see how the season plays out. Could Gasol go to Chicago? Could L.A. sign Gilbert Arenas who, astonishingly, is only 30? And how far can the 33-year-old Kobe carry his franchise?

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The first takeaway from looking at the result of Kansas State's win over No. 3 Missouri would be to notice the Tigers' loss, only their third of the season ahead of a visit to fifth-ranked Kansas. But Kansas State's play might be even more significant. Prior to this game, K-State beat the top-10 Baylor Bears, and they've now knocked off Missouri twice en route to an 8-7 Big 12 record. Not a bad-looking tournament résumé at all, especially considering that only a week ago, the Wildcats had finished dropping four of six, with three of those featuring the surrender of double-digit, second-half leads.

The Tigers mounted a late comeback on Tuesday but couldn't prevent the Wildcats from dealing them their first home loss and a serious blow to their chances of landing one of the four NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds over other hopefuls like Kansas, Duke, Michigan State and Ohio State. One of Mizzou's problems against K-State could haunt them come tournament time, writes the Kansas City Star's Terez A. Paylor. The Tigers struggled with the size and strength of the Wildcats' interior defense, which had five blocks in the first half and generally outmuscled the hosts.

Mizzou players can at least console themselves with the knowledge that, compared to No. 9 Georgetown, they kept it close. The Hoyas fell 73-55 to Seton Hall, a team that hasn't made the tournament since 2006. The loss was Georgetown's largest since their destruction at the hands of Virginia Commonwealth in last year's NCAA tourney, and it came largely at the hands of Seton Hall's Jordan Theodore, who shot a perfect 5-5 from 3-point range on his way to 29 points. By upsetting Georgetown, Seton Hall might finally have the signature win it needs to squeak their way into the tournament.

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At first glance, skateboarding through Peoria, Ill., might not seem like it has anything to do with the great writer (and sportswriter) David Foster Wallace, who would've celebrated his 50th birthday Tuesday if he were still alive. But Peoria is where DFW's last, unfinished book, The Pale King, was set, and it was there that his characters grappled with one of the greatest everyday difficulties of human existence: boredom. In such a mindset, Kyle Beachy visited the city to skate the streets and skateparks, searching, not really for Wallace, but for a reminder of the transformative element of play. (Caution: There's some rough language included in this piece.)

"Pushing hard alongside a sidewalk for which I have no current use, I am not bored," Beachy writes. "The sound of wheels is tiny thunder over which a woman's voice yells do a kickflip because today people know so many things they recently did not. Mark Besnan's triplicate account of play: unproductive, unpredictable, and even beautiful. No longer the comfortable obscurity—people stand with arms crossed and watch. And when I do fall, it is not the fault of rough pavement or sidewalk seam or any of the drivers moving through downtown. It is, like the vast majority of all skateboarding failures, due to a commitment less than complete. I cannot blame the people watching. This part is too basic to write down, but there is no cause for this failure other than: fear. And still it's the most fun thing."

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22 Feb, 2012

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