Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant

Until Kobe Bryant came back from his injury, the Los Angeles Lakers had a decent thing going for them. They were 10-9, playing some fun to watch basketball, and looking a lot better than anyone expected from them. His return, plus the dissolving relationship between Mike D’Antoni and Pau Gasol is leading the team in the wrong direction.

The Atlanta Hawks did what the book says against this bad defense – make the most of their very soft interior, which meant pushing the ball into Al Horford, through or above the defense. Horford finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, helping Jeff Teague reach 10 assists, or moving the ball around the perimeter, resulting in 11 three pointers. It resulted in a 114-100 win for the Atlanta Hawks, once again becoming a plus .500 team, only the third the Eastern conference has.

Kobe Bryant is always the story, even when he’s just normally bad. He scored 9 points on 4-of-14 from the field, getting quite a rough treatment from DeMarre Carroll. The small forward gave Kobe the full court press treatment, tiring the 35-year old out, as his ankle and legs still don’t seem to be strong enough to put in a full-game effort without showing a significant drop at some point. The problem isn’t only Kobe’s fitness, but the fact that he forces his team to completely change when he’s on the floor.

Lou Williams

Worse? The unit that plays without him is stuck in the same mode. The ball movement we saw in the beginning of the season is gone, the spacing disappears as well. Pau Gasol remains frustrated about not having a chance to show how good he is in the post, and while the return of Bryant should have made the Lakers better, it’s been doing the exact opposite.

We’ve been hearing about the Lakers thinking to make a trade. Before getting into options and speculations, a few things need to be reminded of: The Lakers don’t want to take on deals that will hurt their salary cap next season, and they seem to be undecided yet about their direction: Simply letting things play out, which means letting Bryant get back to his old self and let the team mesh around him at some point, or doing whatever they can to finish with the best possible record, and damn rebuilding or the draft. Well, actually, giving Bryant that two-year deal shows what they feel about the rebuilding word.

The Hawks continue to go through the motions. They are enjoyable to watch, finishing with 34 assists as Lou Williams added 8 from the bench, but it’s still hard to see anything too consistent from this team on both ends of the floor. Not a feeling of a complete team just yet. Good enough to make the playoffs in the East, but once again being only good enough for one or two rounds, the eternal ceiling for the franchise these past 30 years. However, they have more of a future than the Lakers, who have let the fate of one player be bound to theirs, and at some point haven’t stopped letting him drag them down with him.

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