PHOENIX - Kobe Bryant is the best player in the National Basketball Association.

Others can shoot, pass, rebound or defend better, of course, but no one comes as close to possessing the complete package and a take-no-prisoners mentality as he does.

On most teams, this would be a beautiful thing, a foundation upon which championships are built.

Unfortunately, the Lakers have Kwame Brown in their lineup, too. And that puts L.A. in a unique, though not enviable, position.

For the Lakers might be the first team in NBA history to have the league's best player - and, arguably, its worst.

Every time Kwame Brown sets foot on a basketball court, let alone touches a ball, you scratch your head and ask how in the world could Michael Jordan have possibly drafted Brown No. 1 overall in any NBA draft.

If Bryant did not ask himself that question before the Lakers' 95-87 loss to Phoenix in Game 1 of a Western Conference playoff series yesterday, he probably is doing so now.

Bryant was not responsible for the Game 1 loss. He exploded for 28 points in the first half.

His efforts, which included 39 points overall, were not enough, though, not after Brown did a sleepwalking act throughout the game.

In 29 minutes, Brown - the first choice of the 2001 draft when Jordan ran the Washington Wizards - had almost as many fouls (three) as points (four). He did not get to the free-throw line once and quite possibly lost count of how many times he touched the ball before passing it away without so much as looking at the basket or posing any kind of offensive threat.

After the game a fuming yet reserved Bryant said: "We didn't execute as well as we needed to execute. We started turning the ball over, which turned into easy baskets for them."

Bryant blamed the Lakers' troubles on a "lack of execution." Had the Lakers executed "like we did in the first half, things would have been better," he said.

If anyone is inclined to ask what drug Bryant was using, feel free!

He wouldn't have found the joke remotely funny, but he'd get over it, knowing the attempt at humor was not nearly as bad as Brown's game.

The Lakers entered Game 1 relatively quiet but perturbed over :07 Seconds or Less, an all-access book on the Suns' 2005-06 season by Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum. In the book, Suns coach Mike D'Antoni called Brown "awful," intimating he was virtually a statue, someone Amare Stoudemire and the rest of the Suns could eat up at their discretion.

Leandro Barbosa did most of the damage yesterday, chipping in 26 points off the bench. Stoudemire added 23 points and 12 rebounds and Shawn Marion added 16 points and 16 rebounds.

It looked so easy, it seemed as if the Suns were playing H-O-R-S-E in the fourth quarter, with Steve Nash (20 points, 10 assists) running layup lines while Brown did nothing but whine at the officials.

In the end, there was no disputing D'Antoni's statements.

Brown is a joke, not because of his talent, but because of his lack of effort. Putrid results are what they are, especially for a kid who has never grown as a player but is still guaranteed $9,075,000 next season.

That should be Brown's final year in L.A. If you're Bryant, that is no consolation.

Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Only the here and now is, and things are not pretty at all. The Lakers have gone backward, not quite slipping into the indifference and low expectation that has plagued the 76ers, but not too far from it, either.

"I'm very close with the people in this organization," Bryant told me hours before the game. "They're all on speed dial, and I'm on theirs. If there's something that needs to be done, we'll get it done. We're all in this together."

While that may be true, it's certainly not enough. They've been on the same page for years, and look what has happened.

"It's just one game," Bryant reiterated. "We know what adjustments we need to make, and we're confident we can make them."

He's right about knowing what to do but fooling himself if he thinks anyone believes he's confident it will happen.

If nothing else, Bryant is Jordan in reverse, learning a very valuable lesson as his career wanes instead of at its beginning. And that lesson is: You can be one of the greatest ever, but what good are you if Kwame Brown can tarnish that reality?

Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846 or