Some men are born leaders.
Others learn the concept.
Then there's Kobe Bryant.
As his post-Shaq career continues, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Bryant might have been blessed with some the most amazing offensive basketball skills ever seen. But the trade-off is a complete inability to understand his fellow man.
After a year and two months of playing alongside Lamar Odom, Bryant still has no clue how to make things work between the two, which would make his life a whole lot easier.
This season it has largely been Odom who has received the criticism for not helping Bryant enough by playing a passive offensive game. But Odom is just playing to his strengths whenever he can. It just so happens that standing around the perimeter as he watches Bryant go to work is not one of those strengths.
Bryant is apparently blind to the fact that Odom is a career 31 percent three-point shooter, because he insists on trying to draw the defense and kick it out to Odom on the perimeter. And recently Bryant criticized Odom for not making the shot when it has been there for him.
"When they double-team me and triple-team me and I swing the ball," Bryant said after the Lakers lost to the Wizards this week, "we've got to step up and knock those shots down."
Think it's up to Odom to find spots in the triangle where he can be effective? Listen to Caron Butler, a Laker last season, explain how that's nearly impossible to do with Bryant, a triangle expert, on the floor.
"I think the majority of the offense when Lamar was in Miami was running through him," Butler said, referring to Odom's career year with the Heat in 2003-04. "He had the ball and he was making decisions. That's what he's good at, making other people better. Out there in Los Angeles, 90 percent of the time, Kobe has the ball.
"And even though it's the triangle, when you have a guy like Kobe Bryant who's so aggressive offensively and everything, he knows what spot to go to every time to get the ball in the triangle. Lamar is just having a tough time getting adjusted."
Too many boundaries
If Bryant knew what was good for the team, he would allow Odom to do more of the directing in the triangle.
"I feel for him because Lamar is so talented," Butler said. "He can be doing so many more things out there. I know he wants to, but there are boundaries. He can't do so much."
Good luck with that, Lamar.
Then there's the schizophrenic aspect to Bryant. One day he's the nice guy, the next he's Mr. Macho, both acts entirely transparent to everyone, including his teammates.
In the Christmas Day game against the Heat, Bryant barely reacted when Wade socked him in the ribs with a blatant elbow. And every time Wade fell to the floor, Bryant was the first one trying to help him up, as if trying to force a friendship between the former and current Shaquille O'Neal sidekicks.
Less than a week later, Bryant tries to play enforcer, clocking Mike Miller with a cheap-shot forearm more than a quarter after Miller bloodied Bryant with an inadvertent elbow. It earned him a two-game suspension (just a guess, but the Lakers will probably look more unified in those two games than they have all season).
After the Memphis game, Bryant gave a ridiculous speech about him having to "take initiative to do that," because opponents go to the Staples Center "and think it's Hollywood and all this other stuff and they'll come down and look pretty and shoot jump shots and dunk the ball and stand over the ball and all this other cute stuff."
Actually, Kobe, that's just you who does all that stuff. If you're trying to get the respect of teammates, how about just passing the ball and playing the game without all the theatrics.
Bryant's attempts at leadership look about as artificial as the pregame exchanges between he and O'Neal last season.
And no one's following.
n Lakers fall to Jazz
For the Los Angeles Lakers, the arrival of 2006 only makes it feel that much longer since their last NBA championship in 2002.
Phil Jackson is coaching the team again, but it will take a victory Tuesday in Utah - when Kobe Bryant serves the second game of his NBA suspension - to avoid Jackson suffering his first five-game losing streak as the Lakers coach.
Without Bryant on Sunday night, the Lakers had no player in uniform but Devean George left from that last title team and lost to the Utah Jazz, 98-94, at Staples Center. George had a 15-point game, but like nearly all the Lakers, he missed critical foul shots in a shaky final stretch that left Jackson questioning his team's mental health.
"Really, it's a matter of confidence," Jackson said of the Lakers' 15-of-25 effort from the foul line.
Lamar Odom had more misses than anyone from the foul line, and he was so distraught by one miss just before the end of the third quarter he stood frozen at the foul line long after the miss, not even moving for the rebound. Odom also spiked the basketball in frustration in the final minute of the game.
"Any sport, any team, when their best player goes down, you have to step up and do things the right way," Odom said. "We did that at times, but toward the end of the game, we couldn't will ourselves to make the right play."
In other NBA action: Miami 97, Minnesota 70; LA Clippers 100, Portland 94.