Kobe Bryant: Has His Knee Started a New Rift with Phil Jackson?

Elliott Pohnl@@ElliottPohnl_BRFeatured ColumnistNovember 2, 2010

Kobe Bryant: Has His Knee Started a New Rift with Phil Jackson?

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a play against the Houston Rockets during their opening night game at Staples Center on October 26, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledg
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Kobe Bryant wants the world to know that his surgically repaired right knee is fine.

    More importantly, he doesn't want to talk about it anymore.

    Following the L.A. Lakers' blowout win over the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, Bryant was interviewed and asked about the health of his knee.

    He said his knee was fine and added that he doesn't want to be asked the question again.

    After the game, Phil Jackson continued his jabs at his superstar, saying he was impressed by Kobe's "progress," but didn't believe he was 100 percent yet.

    Finally, Kobe has had enough.

    "Yes," Kobe said when reporters asked if he was telling the truth about his physical state. "So leave me the hell alone about my (expletive) knee."

    He wasn't done yet.

    When asked what he thought of his coach's latest statement, he laughed and said he didn't give a (expletive) about what Jackson said.

    Yikes.

    The harsh tone of Kobe's comments, combined with Jackson's candor regarding the injury, suggests a feud might be brewing.

    Here's a closer point-counterpoint look at the relationship between coach and player.

No. 5 They're Fine: Phil Jackson is Trying to Motivate Kobe Bryant

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers takes a shot against the Houston Rockets during their opening night game at Staples Center on October 26, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges a
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Kobe Bryant is insanely competitive, so he probably doesn't need any motivation.

    But coming off two straight seasons culminated by NBA championships, Phil Jackson could be waxing poetic about Kobe's knee. Jackson may be trying to make sure his superstar is working to take care of his body and improve his physical condition.

    Ever the master motivator, Jackson might be trying to give Kobe another reason to strive for perfection right now instead of waiting until later in the season to turn things up.

No. 5 They're Not Fine: Phil Jackson is Genuinely Concerned

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    LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 13:  Head coach Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers watches his team take on the Sacramento Kings during a preseason game at the Thomas & Mack Center October 13, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Lakers won 98-95. NOTE TO USER: User ex
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Phil Jackson doesn't sound overly concerned when speaking about Kobe's knee.

    But when has Jackson ever sounded concerned about anything?

    The Hall of Fame coach says he will limit Kobe's minutes early in the season, which suggests he might in fact be worried about exactly how well that right knee will hold up.

No. 4 They're Fine: Just Believe Kobe Already

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    EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Kobe Bryant #24 and head coach Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers pose with NBA Finals Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy during  Media Day at the Toyota Center on September 25, 2010 in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO US
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    We live in a time in which columnists, analysts and fans are inherently skeptical about anything-and-everything athletes say.

    For a change, it might be a good idea to believe Kobe.

    That means you, Coach Jackson.

    Kobe has never been completely candid about his injuries in the past, but he has always admitted when he hasn't been 100 percent.

    Why would he not admit that now?

    All signs point to Kobe believing his knee is close to 100 percent.

No. 4 They're Not Fine: Kobe is Lying

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a play against the Houston Rockets during their opening night game at Staples Center on October 26, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledg
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Kobe wants us to believe he is Superman and there is no kryptonite.

    He wants us to think he is in an ultimate warrior who cannot be defeated, by anyone in Miami or by father time.

    He might think he will be 100 percent soon, but that doesn't mean he is actually 100 percent right now.

    There is a good chance Kobe has at least a little concern about the progress of his right knee following the surgery.

    And if anyone can see through that facade, it's Phil Jackson.

No. 3 They're Fine: The Numbers are Solid

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts as the 2009-2010 Championship Banner is unveiled during a ceremony prior to their opening night game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center on October 26, 2010 in Los A
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    What is Phil Jackson worried about?

    Through three games, all wins by the Lakers, Kobe is averaging 24 points, over six rebounds and over four assists while shooting 45 percent from the field.

    And he is doing it in about 32 minutes per game.

    If he was to play a few more minutes, there's no reason to think he couldn't up his average to around the 27-point mark while remaining fairly efficient.

No. 3 They're Not Fine: The Numbers Don't Mean Everything

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers kisses his 2009-2010 Championship Ring after the Lakers were given the rings during a ceremony prior to their opening night game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center on Octo
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    From Phil Jackson's standpoint, Kobe's fairly impressive numbers might mean very little with his health still in question.

    How long can he keep producing before his body wears down?

    And, more importantly, how does he look in practice and in games?

    For the most part, it appears Kobe's lift and quickness remain a work in progress early in the season.

    If Kobe was right, there is no way slow-footed Shane Battier blows by him along the baseline on opening night.

    If Kobe was right, there is no way he only gets to the free-throw line nine times in the last two games combined.

No. 2 They're Fine: Phil Jackson is Just Playing His Mind Games

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    BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 07:  Head Coach Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the NBA Europe Live match between Los Angeles Lakers and Regal FC Barcelona at the at Palau Blaugrana on October 7, 2010 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Davi
    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Phil Jackson is a man who enjoys nothing more than trying to get into people's heads.

    Whether it's handing out books to his players or taking calculating jabs at opponents, Jackson has an innate ability to make people think.

    His criticism might just be an attempt to see how Kobe responds.

    Jackson seems to have gone out of his way to question his superstar, and there is probably some reason fueling his comments.

    That doesn't mean the reason is a good one.

No. 2 They're Not Fine: Kobe Doesn't Like Being Dissed by His Coach

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks to move the ball against Kevin Martin #12 of the Houston Rockets during their opening night game at Staples Center on October 26, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER:
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Kobe Bryant has had some tiffs with Phil Jackson in the past.

    Even after several peaceful and successful years, he is clearly not amused by the comments of his coach.

    Jackson has been expressing concern about Kobe's knee ever since training camp opened.

    In fact, it has been largely because of his comments that the media has made the infamous knee such a big story in the first place.

    If he starts to play the blame game, Kobe will be pointing his surgically-repaired index finger directly at his head coach.

No. 1 They're Fine: Kobe is Just Crabby

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    WASHINGTON - JANUARY 25:  President Barack Obama (R) poses for photographs with Kobe Bryant (L) and members of the National Basketball Association 2009 champions Los Angeles Lakers in the East Room of the White House January 25, 2010 in Washington, DC.  T
    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Kobe has spent the last three months answering more questions about LeBron James and the Miami Heat than about himself and the Los Angeles Lakers.

    As much as he tried to be patient and polite, towards the end of preseason it was clear he was just about done talking about NBA stories not involving himself or his team.

    That doesn't mean he won't still be asked about the Heat.

    Meanwhile, the issue of his right knee became a bigger story by the day.

    What was supposed to be a fairly easy recovery from a fairly minor surgery became the biggest story surrounding the Lakers' attempt at a three-peat.

    In a few more weeks, Kobe might very well be smiling again.

No. 1 They're Not Fine: Kobe is Tired of Phil Jackson's Games

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    PHOENIX - MAY 29:  Kobe Bryant #24 and head coach Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers talk in the first quarter of Game Six of the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at US Airways Center on May 29, 2010 in P
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson are very similar to an old married couple.

    They're still together, but the relationship is far from perfect.

    At some point, something has to give.

    Jackson's mind games come with the territory. But is there really a point to them?

    Kobe knows he doesn't need any additional motivation. He also knows Jackson would never have dared question Michael Jordan's health late in his career with the Bulls' dynasty.

    Kobe just wants to play basketball and forgot about any drama.

    His coach certainly isn't making it any easier.

Conclusion: There's No Drama in L.A. Yet

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    DENVER - MAY 29:  (L-R) Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shakes hands with head coach Phil Jackson as Bryant is taken out of the game in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2009 NB
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Before we get too carried away here, let's take a step back and look at what is really going on.

    Kobe Bryant is tired of being asked the same question every single day.  He is also tired of his coach answering that very same question every single day.

    If Jackson would say something like, "Kobe looks great, ready for another MVP season," everyone would think he was out of his mind.

    Phil Jackson is a complicated man who doesn't usually throw around compliments.

    Instead, he prefers to wear his sly grin and say things to stir the pot.

    In the end, the marriage is still healthy and not ready to dissolve anytime soon.

    Some counseling might not be a bad idea, though.

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