If the Lakers somehow end up winning a championship this season, they’ll look back on Jan. 23 in Memphis as the day a disastrous year turned around.
In the midst of losing eight of ten games—including later that evening to the Grizzlies—a meeting was held and everyone got to speak his piece. It was the night the Lakers decided to a least try to change from clowns to champions.
“It was,” said Laker forward Antawn Jamison, “like, ‘look guys, we’re halfway through the season, and if we want to continue to be the laughingstock of the NBA, play selfish basketball and not trust our teammates, then we’re going to do it.’ But if we want to make this into one of the best stories in sports history, we have to rely on each other, pull for one another and enjoy playing with each other. In reality, we never should have the types of high and lows that we went through. There’s too much talent on this team for that.”
There were reports of Kobe Bryant confronting Dwight Howard and others speaking up—including head coach Mike D’Antoni—to try and clear the polluted locker room atmosphere. Jamison said that the meeting wasn’t exactly a cumbiyah moment, but it was cathartic for the team.
“There were certain things that some people had to get off of their chests,” said the two-time All Star. “For us, I think it was an eye-opener. We were all just fed up having to deal with the ups and downs all season. We had to turn it around immediately.”
Friday night was another move in that direction as the Lakers (21-26) blew most of a 29-point lead but beat the Timberwolves in Minnesota, 111-100. It was their 20th straight win over the T-Wolves (17-26), and another night of vindication for Jamison, who has been benched numerous times by D’Antoni, only to return from the banishment and make major contributions each time. The reserve power forward added 18 points and seven rebounds, continuing to prove to that he belongs in the regular rotation.
“It’s definitely been a tough season so far,” said Jamison. “But it’s not about me: This is about our team, and some of the stuff we’ve been through has been difficult to deal with, and really should have never happened.”
Then the meeting in Memphis took place.
“We were frustrated with everything,” Jamison said. “From the way that we played to how we reacted to certain things, and we knew that we could—and we’d have to—do better.”
The introspective North Carolina product said that whenever you put together a roster with Bryant, Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, himself and other players, there’s bound to be conflict. But the teams that win are the ones who subvert their egos for the benefit of the team.
“In any franchise, you have personalities and you have egos,” he said. “And we have multiple legends on this team. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it doesn’t click until somebody stands up and says something about it. That’s what happened with us, and it’s been good so far.”
Although they’ve won four of five and look like a much more cohesive group, Jamison cautions teammates not to let down for even a moment.
“It’s still not certain that we finally ‘get it,’ he said, “because we’ve shown at times before in this season that this is how we should play. We have to keep having each other’s backs on defense and play like we know we can.
“There are no more excuses. We’re (more than) halfway through the season, and we know we can do it and that we should be doing it.
“Will it happen? We’ll see.”
NOTES—Gasol started in place of Howard, who returned to have PRP therapy on his damaged shoulder. He’ll rejoin the Lakers in Detroit sometime Saturday and will be listed day-to-day. Gasol had 22 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Minnesota.