The texts are exchanged on almost a nightly basis. Sometimes they go back and forth until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.
The wounds from the losses the Lakers have piled up this season find a way to keep stinging Kobe Bryant and Byron Scott long after they leave the arena.
“It’s not easy after the games,” said Scott, the first-year Lakers coach. “I think people in LA can tell you. They know it’s not easy after a loss.”
For the first week of the season, it was all the Lakers felt. Five games came and went before a win finally came the Lakers’ way.
Making sense of it was impossible. The Lakers hadn’t started a season with five straight losses since they moved to Los Angeles 54 years ago. The only time it happened in franchise history was in 1957-58, when the team played in Minneapolis.
That was 11 championships and 51 playoff appearances ago.
The losses have kept coming, and the Lakers stand a woeful 5-14 as they come into TD Garden Friday night to face the Celtics, who lug in an almost equally woeful 5-11 record.
With eight championship rings between them, Bryant and Scott are far more familiar with trophy hoisting and confetti showers than somber locker rooms and rebuilding blueprints.
“I think anybody who’s been winning, who’s won championships, when you lose, it should hurt,” Scott said. “I know No. 24 hurts.”
They deal with it different ways. Scott tries his best to wake up every day with a positive attitude, knowing this is the painful first step in a larger plan.
“Every now and then — I wouldn’t say I lose it — but I kind of let them know how I feel, because I’m not used to losing,” Scott said. “And I don’t think anyone in that room wants to get used to that. If you get used to it, then it’s time for you to move on to another team.”
Bryant, at 36 years old and with 19 years in the league, is a transformative player aware that he is in his twilight, but he also wants to prove he can still dominate at the highest level.
“I’m a true competitor,” Bryant said. “When I say that, I mean, when things are difficult, I compete even harder. I don’t run from that. That’s not OK.
“You can’t be competitive [only] when things are going well. When things are going bad, you have to be equally competitive, if not more so.”
No one believes in Bryant more than Scott, and the numbers back him.
A year after tearing his Achilles’ tendon, Bryant leads the league in scoring (26.0 points per game). His 31-point, 11-rebound, 12-assist triple-double against the Toronto Raptors last Sunday made him the first player in league history with 30,000 points and 6,000 assists.
“The biggest question going into the season was, can he still play at a high level?” Scott said. “That question’s been answered, and I mean answered big-time.
At the same time, Bryant has taken the most shots in the league by far (426). The next closest gunner is Monta Ellis (352). His 679 minutes played are second behind Ellis’s 680.
Matters of time
Monitoring Bryant’s minutes is its own struggle for Scott. The season is still young, and Bryant hasn’t shown many signs of wear, but balancing the desire to preserve his superstar for the entire season with that superstar’s own desire to be on the floor is delicate for Scott.
“He’s telling you, ‘Whatever you need me to do, Coach,’ ” said Scott. “But you know in the back of his mind, he wants to be out there. So it’s hard sometimes to kind of pull those reins back because you know how competitive he is and how competitive I am, as far as wanting to win games.”
Bryant will skip an occasional shootaround or sit out a practice, and Scott is fine with that.
“I don’t need him to practice at all, to be honest with you,” Scott said. “At his age and with as many games as he’s played in his career, all he has to know is what we’re doing coverage-wise. That’s it.”
Scott’s eyes are more on the long term. When he sat down with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and owner Jim Buss over the summer before being hired as coach, they sold him on their vision, and that while it wouldn’t be easy in the beginning, the turnaround wouldn’t take long.
“Their question was, ‘Any coach that we hire, it’s going to be rough the first year or two, you do understand that and you’re able to deal with that?’ ” Scott recalled.
The answer was easy.
Scott told them, “Of course I am. I’ve dealt with it before.”
His first head coaching opportunity came in 2000-01 with the New Jersey Nets. That team had four rookies (including Kenyon Martin and Stephen Jackson), lost 56 games, and finished next to last in the Atlantic Division. The next two years, they won the Eastern Conference championship.
He left New Jersey for New Orleans before the 2004-05 season. The Hornets went 18-64 his first season. The next summer, they drafted Chris Paul, and three years later they were a 56-win team.
What makes it more difficult in Los Angeles, though, is Scott’s personal connection to the franchise. He was a part of the Lakers teams that built the Showtime era. He has three rings from the Lakers’ run in the 1980s, and for him, that’s the standard.
“My expectations for this organization are a lot like everybody else’s,” he said.
One of the question marks for the three-year plan is whether or not Bryant will be around to see the end of it. He’s in the first year of a two-year, $48 million contract and has said that he can’t see himself playing beyond it.
“If I want to play, I’ll play,” Bryant said. “I tend to make my own decisions. If I don’t want to play, I won’t play, no matter what.”
The decision, Bryant said, may come down to weighing whether he’s willing to put himself through the work it takes to run the NBA gauntlet for 82 games.
“If I want to go through the process that I go through now of getting ready every single day — the amount of commitment that it takes — it’s nuts,” Bryant said. “If I want to continue to do that, then I will. If I don’t, I don’t.”
That won’t stop Scott from trying to persuade him.
“We’ll talk about that,” Scott said. “He’s got a lot left in that tank. And I think if we put something together that excites him, I think we have a real good chance to say, ‘Play another year. Give it another shot.’ That’s what we plan to do.”
In the meantime, they’ll get through this year. There will be more losses, more late-night texts in which they vent all their frustrations.
“I finally text him and say, ‘Go to bed,’ ” said Scott, “because I’m hurting just like he’s hurting. That’s the thing that I love about him.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.