It was no secret that Kobe Bryant didn’t much care for the coaching stylings of the recently-resigned Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. The former Nuggets, Suns and Knicks coach was brought in by the Buss family, or most of it at least, over Phil Jackson after Mike Brown was fired early in the 2012-13 season, and the two never seemed to click in spite of D’Antoni allowing Bryant unending minutes and shots during that disappointing year.
Following a 2013-14 campaign that was beset by injury, and after the Lakers declined to pick up D’Antoni’s 2015-16 option, the coach walked away from his gig. Bryant was on holiday at the time, but he’s back in Los Angeles now, and the future Hall of Famer decided to take a trip to Jimmy Kimmel’s set on Thursday evening to clarify his views on D’Antoni’s resignation.
Or, “non-views.” From ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
"Honestly, I didn't care," Bryant said Thursday during a guest appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," when asked whether he was happy D'Antoni accepted a buyout of close to $2 million instead of coming back to coach the team next season.
"Mike was dealt a really bad hand in dealing with all the injuries that he had here," Bryant said. "This is a tough place, man. If you're not winning, you're not going to survive, man."
Bryant went on to say that he’ll “sit down” with Lakers brass as they attempt to hire D’Antoni’s replacement, and he offered this shot to El Segundo along the way:
"On the last two they didn't," Bryant said, referring to Mike Brown and D'Antoni, who both failed to endure the length of the initial contracts they signed with the Lakers before parting ways. "On the third one, I'm hoping they do."
It should be noted that Bryant wasn’t exactly seething on Kimmel’s couch, lobbing shots at the departed D’Antoni, the Buss family, and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. That’s just how he talks. That’s just how he is. Because this is a family website, we can only say that Kobe Bryant is a bit … brusque.
As Kobe did, D’Antoni’s time in Los Angeles is worth defending. Steve Nash was never healthy during the coach and point guard’s reunion with the Lakers, Bryant was injured for just about all of 2013-14, Dwight Howard was distracted (to say the absolute least) both mentally and physically in his one season under D’Antoni, and the Lakers’ top-heavy payroll chart made it so solid supporting role players were few and far between in the team’s lacking rotation.
D’Antoni went 28-12 with the Lakers to finish 2012-13, though, even with Nash and Bryant missing chunks of games. With that in place, the former Los Angeles coach failed to adapt to his roster in many ways, he sold out star big man Pau Gasol to the press on a number of occasions, and he never won over Bryant – who reportedly idolized D’Antoni while growing up in Italy, where the former Olimpia Milano point guard starred.
Of course, for a player in Bryant that has clashed with each of his pro coaches, friendship between the two sides isn’t exactly a prerequisite to success. From the Kimmel interview:
"Honestly, it's not really about whether the players like the coach or not," Bryant said. "It's really about getting results. Liking somebody and those results don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.
"Sometimes when a coach is driving you, you don't necessarily like it, but it's a part of the process, and then once you win, everybody is buddy-buddy after that."
Kobe can play the passive/aggressive role when he wants to, especially on his various social media accounts, but in the course of conversation he can be brutally honest, even if he is attempting to be duplicitous at the same time. He’s modeled himself after Michael Jordan in so many ways, but it would be hard to imagine MJ going on Arsenio Hall’s show in 1989 following the firing of Doug Collins, and pointing out that he “didn’t care” about his embattled coach being separated from the gig.
Kobe does care. He wants a fresh start, he wants to be consulted, and he wants to be the NBA’s highest paid player, but also hey please sign another superstar to play alongside me but I still want all the shots and also bring my buddy Pau back and also let me feel wanted by asking me about coaches but I’m going to still pretend to be aloof and cold and distant while going on national TV. Is that cool?
Cake, eating it too, all that.
With Phil Jackson obviously out of the picture, running the show in New York while also attempting to find a coach for his new Knicks team, there are several intriguing candidates that the Lakers could work with. The team’s hiring of Rudy Tomjanovich was an absolute miss in 2004, Rudy T’s offensive stylings were made more or less anachronistic by new zone defense laws in 2001, and it was borderline shocking that the Lakers didn’t realize that while chasing down a big name.
The team weirdly brought in Mike Brown to replace Jackson in 2011, a year after he’d been completely tuned out by LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. Mike D’Antoni also had similar clashes with his pre-Lakers superstar while coaching the Knicks, as he and Carmelo Anthony did not see eye-to-eye. All three replacements had major warning signs that the Lakers’ front office completely overlooked, and all three fell short in their brief runs as Lakers coach.
Kobe’s going to be put on the spot in 2014-15, because he’s just about out of excuses. He’ll be healthy, he’ll be working with a coach and roster that he’ll be consulted on as it is being put together, and he’ll be the league’s highest-paid player. Pressure has never been an issue with Bryant, but it will be interesting to see where he’ll put the blame if things go pear-shaped in Los Angeles again.
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