It's not just because the usually title-contending Lakers are fighting for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. It's not just because the team is insanely inconsistent. It's not just because the group is adjusting to an interim head coach and change of offensive philosophies in the midst of its postseason push. And it's not just because the newer Lakers are finding it surprisingly difficult to play alongside a superstar teammate who should be making basketball easier.
It's a combination of all those reasons that the Lakers are finding life after O'Neal terribly frustrating.
''You have to understand,'' Lakers forward Caron Butler said, ``this season has been so unpredictable.''
Finding that comfort zone, though, has become all the more difficult since Rudy Tomjanovich resigned as Lakers coach in early February. When Tomjanovich left, the Lakers were four games over .500 and playing well despite the absence of an injured Bryant.
Since then, interim head coach Frank Hamblen, an assistant under Phil Jackson and Tomjanovich, has reinstalled the triangle offense in hopes of getting Bryant the ball in more advantageous positions while getting the ball in other players' hands as well.
The transition has only added to the team's aggravation. Not because they don't like the system, but because the team remains inconsistent even with the offense that Bryant and a handful of his teammates have experience with.
''It's something different, something new,'' Butler said. ``It's familiar because we saw [Michael] Jordan run it all those years, but we're not familiar with it, so we've got to find our spots in the triangle because if you're in the wrong spot, it messes up everything. I'm still finding my way through it, but it's different.''
And as obvious as it is that the team is failing to come together on the court, it's just as apparent that there is no bond off it.