LA Lakers Getting an Early Look at 'Coach Kobe'

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 20, 2013

Mar 15, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) talks to forward Metta World Peace (15) during a time out in a game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.  Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers 99-93. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Sidelined by an ankle sprain, L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant has gone from drawing defenders to drawing up plays lately, making for yet another odd storyline out of Hollywood, but also raising a few questions about the efficacy of "Coach Kobe."

Bryant lasted for all of 12 minutes against the Indiana Pacers in his first game back from an ankle sprain. But after hitting the bench early, No. 24 traded in his dribbling for scribbling, spending much of his time on the sideline by shouting advice and even drawing up plays on a clipboard.

According to Mark Heisler of The New York Times, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni is appreciative of Bryant's efforts, but also a little wary. Heisler quoted D'Antoni as saying:

"It’s O.K. You’ve just got to make sure he tells them the right things because he could be giving them different directions than I am. That’s not good—a little bit of a loose cannon. Obviously, he knows what’s going on, and he sees things, but it’s a little scary sometimes."

Some of D'Antoni's trepidation is understandable; Bryant's a strong-willed guy, and he may see a few things differently than the Lakers coach does. But it's worth noting that this isn't the first time Bryant has assumed pseudo-coaching duties during an injury.

In April 2012, a sore shin held Bryant out of action. His behavior on the sideline then was practically identical to what we're seeing from him now.

Bryant's teammates don't seem to have a problem with his instruction, which is probably all that really matters. It's easy to imagine players, many of whom have suffered public criticism from Bryant, bristling at the idea of taking direction from him:

Don't worry, though; Bryant's cameo appearance as coach doesn't mean he's considering making it a more permanent role in the future.

Last time Coach Kobe emerged, Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times was quick to point out that Bryant didn't see himself as a future coach:

"That doesn't mean Bryant has suddenly found his post-retirement career. He's said in the past he doesn't have interest in either coaching or working in the front office. Gasol and Metta World Peace doubted this recent stint has made him reconsider."

That's probably for the best, as great players have almost universally failed as head coaches in the NBA. Bill Russell famously served as a player-coach for a number championship seasons with the Boston Celtics, but that was an entirely different—and decidedly less ego-driven—era.

Larry Bird had some success with the Indiana Pacers, but he was surrounded by a cadre of remarkably capable assistants. After a brief run with a veteran team, he walked away from the bench for good.

All we're seeing from Bryant lately is that his hyper-competitive nature needs an outlet. If that means sketching out plays or explaining how to dice up a double-team from the sidelines, he's willing to do it.

There's no way Bryant goes into coaching after his playing career ends; his competitive spirit and intolerance for players who don't share it would make him an impossibly demanding leader. Plus, as Medina noted in April 2012, former Lakers coach Mike Brown "jokingly argued coaching isn't the right profession because Bryant couldn't afford the Ferrari 458 Italian he recently purchased for a reported $329,000."

For now, a little extra guidance from a suit-wearing Bryant is fine. But all the Lakers want to see is a healthy No. 24 decked out in his usual Purple and Gold uniform.