Los Angeles Lakers Are Pushing Kobe Bryant Toward the Boiling Point

Evan Budrovich@@evanbudCorrespondent IJanuary 5, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 04:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during a 107-102 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on January 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

After a 107-102 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers now stand at 15-17 and are the  11th seed in the Western Conference.

This loss is just another twist on a tumultuous season for the Los Angeles Lakers that is taking a serious emotional hit on Kobe Bryant.

Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were the superstar players who were supposed to help Kobe Bryant rekindle the fire in the Lakers, instantly placing them in championship contention.

But things have not been that pretty for the Lakers, beginning with a winless preseason and an injury to Steve Nash in the season's second game. Panic in Los Angeles ensued, leading to the dismissal of well-respected coach Mike Brown.

Although things have been hectic in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant is playing at an extremely high level, leading the league in scoring.  He has carried the Lakers' offense for most of the season. In the last five games, in which the Lakers are 2-3, Kobe is averaging 35 points per game. 

After a long summer of playoffs, Olympic play and a full preseason, Kobe is playing some of his best basketball in years, averaging 30 points per game on 48-percent shooting.

Despite that, the Lakers have fallen off the mat in the Western Conference and the 34-year-old Bryant is not taking too kindly to the team's recent decline.

First, Bryant did not support the decision to fire Brown so early in the season. He also spoke out in favor of Phil Jackson, speaking to his championship pedigree and serene presence as being needed by the Lakers.

On December 4th, Dave McMenamin of ESPN reported that Kobe called out the effort of Pau Gasol after a string of poor performances. He has strong ties with Gasol, after winning two championships together, but the Spaniard has become an afterthought in the Lakers' offense under coach Mike D'Antoni.

Superstar center Dwight Howard has also encountered an equal share of grief from Bryant. Howard loves the bright lights of Los Angeles and the opportunity to do commercials that highlight his goofy attitude or huge smile, the kind of playfulness that Bryant would never present on the court.

Howard has embraced Kobe's demanding nature according to an interview with Colin Cowherd. Kobe says he pushes Howard to grow as a center because Dwight needs the mentoring. Bryant understands that he must be the guiding presence for Howard, but what will ultimately please the waffling center.  

With Howard leaning toward testing free agency, Bryant would then be left to play alongside the likes of Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre and possibly Pau Gasol in the paint. But Bryant wants and needs an elite post defender; not a gang of second-tier post players.  

At the point guard position, Nash is playing excellent basketball at 38 years old. But let's face it, Nash only has one to two years left in the tank. Although in excellent condition, D'Antoni's refusal to disperse minutes at the point guard position will cripple Nash's future in Los Angeles. 

While Nash was gone for close to three months, the future at point guard looked bleak with Darius Morris and Steve Blake leading a stagnant Lakers offense. According to the Los Angeles Times, Nash understands the concerns for this 15-17 team and believes that time is running out for the Lakers to build chemistry. 

In recent games against much faster teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets; the Lakers could not compete with the heavy dosage of athleticism. 

Bryant attempted to save the day, playing 43 minutes and averaging 27 shots per game, leading to three horrific losses.

In a shot against Lakers' ownership after a game versus Philadelphia on January 1st, Bryant spoke out about his aging team, telling ESPN:

You just saw an old damn team. I don't know how else to put it to you. We're just slow. You saw a team over there that was just younger and just had fresher legs and just played with more energy, and we were just stuck in the mud.

Might the babysitting that Bryant must do with this team be the major force to drive him over the edge and not the Lakers' troublesome defense? With poor play from his seven-footers and the injury bug stifling their depth, Bryant looks in the mirror and sees a team destined for a first-round playoff exit. 

At the beginning of the season, CBS Sports Insider Ken Berger reported that Bryant has repeatably stated that he will continue to play as long as he can contribute at an elite level and be in contention to win championships. No one can argue about the quality of his play.

The growing concerns that are mounting on a daily basis are making life extremely stressful for Kobe during his 17th year in Los Angeles.

With next year as his last under contact with the Lakers, the outcome of this season could decide Bryant's future.

D'Antoni is under contract in Los Angeles for the next three years. With Brown's contract also on the books,  a coaching change is highly unlikely.

Under D'Antoni, the Lakers have limited the effectiveness of Gasol and turned their bench into a gang of three-point shooters. As a result, the team is now prone to losses against less skilled but more athletic opponents.

All that being said, Bryant powers through with a new diet, great shooting touch and elite competitive spirit. The 34-year-old continues to shine while his teams fade from contention, similar to the 2005-2006 season.

In that season, Bryant averaged a career-high 35 points per game, but the Lakers blew a 3-1 series lead against the Nash- and D'Antoni-led Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs. 

If this season continues to disappoint, Black Mamba will be severely tempted to explode with frustration. His outrage against the Lakers is building.