Anything less than an NBA championship would have to be considered a failure for Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant at this point in his career, and that means the 2011-12 season is pretty much a lost cause, even though the postseason is in the Lakers' future.
However, unless some type of miracle happens in the next few weeks, it's hard to envision the Lakers going much further than their four-game, second-round sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks last year.
Talent is not the issue this season, since the Lakers have three legitimate All-Star, All-NBA players in Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Kobe, and the addition of point guard Ramon Sessions has upgraded the team's talent level significantly in the backcourt.
On paper, the Lakers have a strong enough roster to challenge any team in the NBA in a seven-game playoff series. Unfortunately, postseason series are not won on paper, which is a fact that coach Mike Brown is well aware of.
The last time we saw Brown as an NBA head coach, he was leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to consecutive 60-win seasons and two No. 1 seeds in the postseason.
Brown was soon unceremoniously ushered out of town after his LeBron James-led teams failed to reach the NBA Finals after posting the best record in the NBA.
Even worse still, was the manner in which Brown was clearly out-coached by Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics in Brown's final postseason series as coach of the Cavaliers.
Brown seemed to have no answers for Rivers' defensive adjustments against James throughout the series, and his less-than-strategic approach to offense is a trait that has followed Brown west to Los Angeles.
Brown will never be called an innovator when it comes to offense, and he didn't need to be, considering he was inheriting what was once one of the NBA's most feared offensive teams in the Lakers.
This version of the Lakers hardly resembles the well-oiled offensive machines of the Phil Jackson era, as evidenced by the fact that Brown's offense is currently producing almost eight less points per game than last year's team.
And while Brown has hung his coaching hat on defense, the Lakers have given up more than 100 points in their last three losses.
And once again, Brown has failed to make any noticeable adjustments on either end of the floor.
Lakers fans have given Brown a pass in most regards, since the lack of a playmaking point guard was seen as the root of most of the team's issues, but the early play of Sessions following the acquisition of the point guard has mostly erased that notion.
Sessions has been very solid and, at times, spectacular, but none of that has registered in the win-loss column, as the Lakers have stumbled to a 2-3 record in their past five games, with two of the losses coming at home.
So who is to blame for the Lakers' recent struggles?
If you were watching the Lakers' loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, it would be easy to assume that Kobe was partially responsible for the defeat—at least since Brown decided to sit Bryant during the critical fourth quarter.
And I'm still trying to figure out Brown's motives for his actions.
It's not like Kobe was jacking up errant shots, as he was only 7-of-15 from the field at that point, and to Kobe's credit, he didn't make a big issue out of the incident afterwards.
"It's his decision to make," Bryant said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
"If you guys are looking for a story, I'm not going to contribute to it. I can't sit here and criticize the decision. As leader of this ball club, it's something I can't afford to do. I've got to have his back. I've had his back the whole season. I can't start doing something crazy now. It doesn't make any sense."
Bryant said all the right things in that instance, but it still doesn't explain why Brown chose to sit him when the game was theoretically still within reach, and Brown feels like he doesn't have to.
"I just decided to make the substitution," Brown said after the Lakers' shootaround Tuesday in preparation for their game against the Golden State Warriors.
"That was it. Nothing else. Is it easy now to sit back and say, 'Would you do it again?' Anybody can play Monday morning quarterback. But, at the time, I probably would have done it again if the same (situation) came up. Who knows? But, I made (the decision) and to me; that was it."
Those were Brown's words, according to CBSsports.com, and as the head coach, he has to be given the leeway to make decisions that might help his team regardless of whose feelings he may hurt.
But, the Bryant incident was not one of those situations.
In fact, it could be argued that Brown's perplexing move to bench Bryant actually hurt the Lakers more than it helped them, which has become a recurring theme in Brown's head-coaching career.
During Brown's tenure in Cleveland and his brief time in Los Angeles, I have yet to see him make one critical strategic adjustment that can be credited with bringing his team a win. But, I have seen him make many questionable decisions that may have cost his teams wins.
And according to this article on ESPN.com, several players on the Lakers' roster have gone as far to question Brown's judgement in certain situations as well.
That was the same type of criticism that chased Brown out of Ohio, and potentially inciting a feud with arguably the greatest player in the history of the Lakers franchise is no way to turn over a new leaf.
The Lakers do have time to salvage their season and at least finish respectably, but expecting them to compete for a championship this year goes against all that Brown's coaching career has shown us.
Bryant's frustration will become more visible if the losses continue to pile up, and it's hard to see the competitor in him being as kind to the cameras when referencing Brown as the season progresses.
You can't really blame Bryant if the tension surrounding the Lakers does eventually boil over, because when it comes to winning championships, Bryant possesses the knowledge that Brown can't replicate.
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