Imagine how fired up Kobe Bryant would be if he were playing AND coaching.
If you're a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers or you happen to spend a lot of time around Lakers fans, chances are that in the last two years, either you or someone you know has joked that the Lakers might as well just make Kobe Bryant their head coach.
But what if it actually happened?
What if, after the Lakers fired Mike Brown five games into the season, Jim Buss said, "There's no way I'm bringing Phil back. There's no one else who can come in and turn this thing around on the fly. I don't want to pay an overmatched coach while I'm still paying the guy I just canned. Screw it, let's just let Kobe coach the team!"?
It's a fantastical scenario, to be sure, but let's flesh it out just for kicks. No doubt the Lakers would be a far different team than they are now, but would it be for better or for worse?
Here's how the Lakers would look if Kobe got to channel his inner Bill Russell and be L.A.'s player-coach for this season. (Also, get ready for the most candid coaching interviews you've ever seen.)
1. Slow the Game Down
What have we been hearing (and seeing) all year? The Lakers are old and slow. Kobe knows this better than anyone, and though he's given us some flashbacks to his athletic peak, Bryant doesn't crave the up-tempo pace coach Mike D'Antoni has installed.
Just look at the way he plays. Rarely does Bryant catch the ball and fire away. Rather, he takes a couple seconds to survey the defense before going on the attack.
There's no point in pushing the tempo when you don't have the horses to run with your opponent. How many times this year have we witnessed Ty Lawson or James Harden or Russell Westbrook sail coast to coast for an easy layup after made baskets?
Los Angeles' advantage is their size. Their roster composition is much more similar to the Memphis Grizzlies (28th in pace) than the Houston Rockets (No. 1 in pace), so why do they try to speed the game up like the latter?
2. Play Through the Post
The best way to slow the game down is to run your offense through the post instead of jacking the first available three-point attempt. Fortunately, the Lakers are blessed with two of the best post players in the league in Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Most likely, the very first change Coach Bryant makes would be to tailor the offense to a pound-it-down-low inside-out style.
Bryant loves operating out of the post. According to MySynergySports, he makes nearly 55 percent of his field goals in post-up situations and ranks eighth in points per possession on post-ups.
Gasol also excels at playing with his back to the basket, though the numbers haven't bore that out this season. (Then again, none of Gasol's numbers in 2013 bear any resemblance to the rest of his career.) He could also function as a brilliant facilitator from the elbow the way his brother Marc does in Memphis.
A perfect set that Bryant could get the Lakers in is Gasol with the ball at the right elbow throwing an entry pass to Kobe on the right block. Steve Nash and Shooter X would be stationed behind the three-point arc on the left side of the floor with Dwight Howard floating on that side as well.
With the right side of the court cleared, Bryant could go to work one-on-one against his defender. Depending on where the help comes from, Kobe would have countless options to go to from there.
Gasol could be open at the elbow for a makeable jumper. Howard could dart to the hoop, either for a lob from Bryant or a quick high-low from Gasol if the first pass goes to the elbow. Howard could also set a back screen for a weak-side shooter for an open three off a cross-court laser from Bryant.
In a system like that (supplemented of course with pick-and-rolls and some brainy Steve Nash probes), the Lakers would grind down the other team possession after possession 24 seconds at a time, without getting into up-and-down sprints they don't have the legs for.
3. No More Third-Quarter Meltdowns
The Lakers have a tendency to come out flat for the second half. That shouldn't happen because the second quarter has been their worst quarter of the season, meaning there's usually a need for urgency right after halftime.
And yet, they've been outscored by their opponents in the third quarter for the season.
There's no way that happens if Kobe Bryant is the boss. Can you imagine how frightening a place the Lakers locker room would be if L.A. went into halftime after a typically disappointing second period?
Right now Bryant is only responsible for himself, but if it was his job to get his teammates going and make sure they were doing what he demanded of them, then some arenas might need to remodel their away facilities after the Lakers blow through town.
I'm saying there's even odds that Bryant would bring Dwight Howard to tears at least once after a listless first-half performance.