Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash Caught in Middle of LA Lakers’ Tanking Quandary

LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant would later muster up a little optimism, donning a pointed purple party hat at home as the clock ticked toward 2014.

Bryant spent the bulk of New Year’s Eve, however, with chin tucked firmly in hand at the end of the bench in Staples Center, glumly watching the Los Angeles Lakers never lead and eventually lose to the team with the NBA’s worst record, the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Lakers had lost to two of the NBA’s other worst teams, the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers, right before that in this slide of six losses in seven games since Bryant was diagnosed with his knee fracture.

As Bryant headed out of Staples on New Year’s Eve, he crossed paths with Lakers sideline reporter Mike Trudell and me.

Bryant wasn’t smiling.

He did look over and muster up the sentiment, still without smiling: “Happy New Year to you fellas.”

Twenty strides later, Trudell and I crossed paths with Steve Nash, similarly on his way out of the somber Lakers' postgame locker room. Nash wore the friendly but jaw-clenched-tight smile that we see more and more often from him in place of the warm comfort and radiating confidence from throughout his career.

"That’s the story of the season right there," Trudell said after Nash had gone the other way. "Two of the greatest guards in NBA history walking by in street clothes, powerless to help on the court."

Bryant and Nash, whose work ethics and drives far transcend those of even other superstars, came into the season more motivated than normal to succeed after injuries undermined what was supposed to be a championship-caliber 2012-13 season.

Instead, more injuries. More street clothes.

The new years lately have been less happy than the old years, when Bryant and Nash generated points with ease for their teams. The Lakers now are struggling bad...

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