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Is Kobe Bryant or Mike D'Antoni a Bigger Threat to Lakers' Future Success?

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Is Kobe Bryant or Mike D'Antoni a Bigger Threat to Lakers' Future Success?
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Kobe Bryant (left) and Mike D'Antoni

The Los Angeles Lakers have two figures that could potentially threaten their future success: Kobe Bryant and Mike D’Antoni.

By most accounts, both are quite stubborn and stuck in their ways, which makes them difficult personalities to manage in some respects. We will look at how both could get in the way of Los Angeles’ resurgence.

 

Mike D’Antoni

The Los Angeles Lakers fired Mike Brown after a handful of games early in the 2012-13 season and hired Mike D’Antoni as his successor.

The new Lakers coach struggled throughout the campaign to integrate both Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard into his offense and only truly solved the issue once Kobe Bryant was lost for the season.

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Mike D'Antoni with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol

D’Antoni even relegated Gasol to the second unit and stated after a loss that he had removed the Spaniard from the lineup late in a game because he was trying to win the game.

Gasol was the chess piece that transformed an average Lakers team into a championship contender in 2007-08 and beyond, yet the headman treated him like a regular rotation player.

In addition, Howard was often unhappy in the offense because he felt as though his touches were lacking. At the conclusion of a January contest, Howard begged the media members present in the locker room to glance at the box score.

Howard was intimating he needed more shots (he only took five shots in that game) but one of the league’s most respected offensive gurus could not help him on that front.

D’Antoni believes in pushing the pace, spacing the floor and firing away from three-point range. His preferred methods to accomplish this are transition offense and pick-and-rolls.

This is perfect for the likes of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash given their ball-handling ability as well as their passing skills.

However, players like Carmelo Anthony are not built to handle the ball in the pick-and-roll.  Yet, during his time coaching the New York Knicks, D’Antoni had Anthony initiate a multitude of said plays in an effort to tailor his offense to the former Olympian’s game.

His entire offense centered around using Anthony in the screen-roll game and in isolations for him to create drive and kicks. Mind you, Anthony is simply not that kind of player. Quite frankly, it sounds ridiculous in retrospect.

But that speaks to D’Antoni’s coaching. He is not a bad coach by any stretch of the imagination, but he needs a specific set of players to be successful.

Give him an elite perimeter player with solid playmaking skills surrounded by athletes and shooters and he will carve out around 50 wins with it. Anything else though is hit-or-miss.

Thus, big men that play with their backs to the basket are not an ideal fit, which is problematic given that the best ones typically affect championship chases. It is not a coincidence that Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki have all won titles and made numerous appearances in the NBA Finals.

But again, D’Antoni has exhibited an inability to incorporate low-post players into his scheme.

Also, his failures with Anthony suggest that the Knicks’ superstar will not be all that enamored with leaving the Big Apple when he can potentially opt out of his contract in the 2014 offseason to rejoin his former coach on another team, even if it is the Lakers.

That makes the Purple and Gold a surprisingly tough sell for future players wishing to join the team and carry on its rich tradition.

Ultimately though, coaches are easily replaced. Fans pay to watch players perform on the biggest stages and if D’Antoni is an impediment on that front, he will get canned.

He expertly sided with Bryant during the 2012-13 season when determining the focal point of the offense and that probably won him some points with the superstar, but it also lost him a franchise center.

The decision was probably accomplished as a means of self-preservation but it also highlighted Bryant’s role as an unintended saboteur. Every future Lakers transaction will hinge on the mere presence of…

 

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant ruptured his Achilles tendon late in the 2013-14 season and could potentially become a shell of his former self. That does seem unlikely though. The superstar is shattering the recovery timetable and may very well be ready for the start of the 2013-14 training camp.

In analyzing the effects of an Achilles tear on some players, we found out that some of them were forced into retirement while others simply had to alter their play.

In the case of Bryant, his game has seen enough changes throughout the years that he will be able to cope with whatever physical ailments he has and still play at a high level.

There is, however, a possibility he will not be the player he once was. And in the event that is the case, the Lakers are in trouble. Bryant has been defying the odds throughout his career and will undoubtedly look to repeat that feat regardless of his effectiveness.

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Kobe Bryant

Thus, if Bryant is damaged, it is quite likely he will still command the offense and call his number with great frequency. If this sounds speculative, allow me to take you back in time.

During the course of the 2003-04 season, the Lakers superstar injured his right shoulder against the Cleveland Cavaliers and exited the contest to get it checked. He then rejoined his teammates and played left-handed because he could not move his right arm.

Instead of simply passing the ball to an open teammate in better scoring position, he fired up a left-handed shot from outside the foul line, which prompted then head coach Phil Jackson to sit him down for the remainder of the night.

Bryant’s bravado is perhaps his greatest strength and also the source of some of his mistakes. Shooting over double teams with the game on the line (video below) and throwing his teammate under the bus after a playoff game are just a few of the items on Bryant’s vast résumé.

Thus, it is not exactly a stretch to imagine him hijacking the offense despite some physical limitations.

Furthermore, Dwight Howard’s defection from the Lakers may have spoken volumes about the difficulties involved with playing with Bryant.

Indeed, after Howard signed on to play with the Houston Rockets, some reports surfaced that the big man would have agreed to remain in Los Angeles provided that Bryant was no longer a member of the team.

Former Laker Metta World Peace corroborated these said reports when he shared his thoughts with Mark Medina:

"Once Kobe [Bryant] said he could come back for three years, I knew Dwight was going to Houston."

To be fair, there is a segment of the basketball world that believes Howard was simply not mentally strong enough to deal with the high-pressure demands of playing next to Bryant and that argument may have some validity to it.

But it is rather telling that no star or superstar has pushed for a sign-and-trade or trade to join the Lakers' all-time leading scorer. Perhaps playing with Bryant is simply not an attractive proposition.

In addition, the Lakers have constructed their roster in a manner that will allow them to have massive salary cap space in the 2014 offseason to make a run at players such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in the unlikely event they opt out of their contracts and wish to join the team.

However, Bryant has all but shot down that idea by publicly stating a huge pay reduction was completely out of the question. For the record, he is scheduled to earn a little over $30 million for the 2013-14 season.

In other words, if Bryant re-signs with Los Angeles for a similar salary, there will not be any superstar joining him for the 2014-15 season via free agency. Instead, he will spend the twilight of his career playing with a cast of role players and then ultimately riding off into the sunset with the franchise in shambles.

Simply put, Bryant holds all the cards in terms of the future success of the franchise. Perhaps the front office will be able to sell him on the advantages of giving up some ground in terms of both the offense and the salary demands— doing so would certainly enhance the chances of the Lakers rising to elite status in the hierarchy of teams in the league.

However, agreeing to such terms requires Bryant to stop being himself essentially and the odds seem incredibly slim. Thus, Bryant is in fact the biggest threat to the Lakers’ future success.

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