D'Antoni's Hiring Sets Up Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant for Locker-Room Tug-of-War
Two distinct voices emerged in the Los Angeles Lakers' frantic coaching search.
One came from a lifetime Laker, who had just started his 17th season in the purple and gold.
The other came from an NBA veteran (but a Laker newbie) who came to Los Angeles after spending 16 NBA seasons across two different franchises.
The first voice was that of Kobe Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and Lakers legend who lobbied for the return of Phil Jackson to the L.A. sideline.
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, Bryant gushed about the coaching acumen of Jackson (who earned 11 of his 13 championship rings as a coach). The potential return of Jackson offered Bryant the chance to send the 67-year-old in a better light than his ailing knee had allowed him to when Jackson retired following the 2010-11 season.
The Lakers noob, Steve Nash, spoke glowingly of Mike D'Antoni with USA Today's Sam Amick, a coach that he shared four successful seasons with in Phoenix.
D'Antoni coached Nash to consecutive MVP awards as the Phoenix Suns made back-to-back Western Conference Finals appearances.
So, keeping in mind the allegiances of these players and their history with the organization, how was it that Nash's guy emerged with a three-year, $12 million contract?
Perhaps the Lakers' brass felt that Nash would be too marginalized playing in Jackson's famed triangle offense, which, while very successful, has never featured a prominent point guard.
Or possibly Jackson's contract demands were simply too high for a franchise still on the hook for the majority of the $18 million they committed to former coach Mike Brown prior to last season.
Was Mike D'Antoni the right choice as Lakers' coach?
Regardless of how exactly D'Antoni became the choice, though, the Lakers now face the tall task of nurturing Bryant's ego back to a workable level.
After all, as Steve Mills (former president of Madison Square Garden sports) told Scott Soshnick and Eben Novy-Williams of businessweek.com, Bryant no longer holds the loudest voice in the organization.
Remember, this is the same Bryant that ran Shaquille O'Neal out of L.A. just two seasons after a run of three consecutive championships. And it's the same Bryant whose trade demands after a frustrating 2007 season resulted in the acquisition of Pau Gasol.
For now, Bryant is saying all of the right things and has a documented history with D'Antoni.
But this is bigger than a simple coaching change; it's the perceived transformation of this organization away from Bryant.
Will the Black Mamba feel the need to reassert his dominance over his teammates? Will he be O.K. with D'Antoni's star pupil, Nash, receiving high praise if the Lakers can string some wins together when he returns from his leg injury?
The aging roster that D'Antoni will inherit will prove for a hard enough transition in installing his seven-seconds-or-less offense. Any inherited tension among the team's star-studded roster, though, and this short window for a championship may be closed.
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