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We touched on this lightly in the first slide, but when it comes to reeling in Bryant, nothing is ever light or easy.
Remember this is the guy that, before he had won his first MVP, had clashed with both Shaq and Phil Jackson repeatedly over his shot selection, overall shot distribution and his role on the team (his first MVP was the All-Star Game MVP in 2002).
Three All-Star MVPs, three championship titles, one season MVP and two NBA Finals MVPs later, and Bryant is still as stubborn as the donkey in this cutaway scene of Family Guy.
It was one thing when Bryant was the Lakers' only talent capable of producing consistently on the offensive end of the floor.
Bryant's selfish tactics, though a two-edged sword, were much more likely to hurt the opposition than his team.
Now Bryant's odds of helping or hurting are six in one, half a dozen in the other.
Though Bryant was surprisingly too unselfish in the Mavericks series, the criticism he earned for not being a difference maker was the only thing that transpired in the postseason which irritated him enough to draw any discernible reaction from him.
If left unchecked, it is not beyond the realm of possibility for Bryant to up his shot total by three-plus per game next season so he can make good on his promise to start “shutting up the mofos who think I’m done.”
You almost have to wonder if there was a point were Bryant subconsciously realized the series was over and held back just to attract criticisms, so he could motivate himself for the next season.
Sounds insane, I know, but this is Kobe we’re talking about.
So how does the new Laker coach walk in to this wasp nest and tame the queen bee (metaphorically speaking)?
Well, given how many years it took for Jackson to gain Bryant’s confidence, this new coach has to come in ready to go to war.
The new-sheriff-in-town approach may not seem particularly conducive to a championship parade, but in all honesty, the Lakers aren’t likely to be holding one next year anyway.
The Grizzlies, Thunder and Trail Blazers are all on the rise, the Heat are only going to get hotter and the Spurs still have at least one more run in them.
“Trust issues” rarely resolve themselves so quickly, especially under new management.
The Lakers will probably need time to buy into the new system that the next coach brings in, and for Bryant to adapt to playing under a coach that, regardless of who signs up, will be far less accomplished and patient than Jackson was.
Conversely, if the new coach lacks the fortitude to bring in Bryant and, consequently, the rest of the team, expect for Bryant to play outside of himself and for the rest of the team, discontent with becoming mere spectators, to check out and continue to give uninspired performances.
Though there are roster holes that need to be filled and attitude adjustments that need to be made, the state of the Lakers’ future will be placed largely on the shoulders of their new coach.