Whether Phil Jackson loyalists argue that Kobe Bryant has transformed his game because Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense was a failure or Mike D’Antoni-backers (not sure anyone in Los Angeles falls into this category) argue that the coach’s philosophy is responsible for the transformed Bryant, the fact remains that Kobe Bryant is playing unselfish basketball.
D’Antoni deserves some credit for being the man that shepherded Bryant during the transformation.
Even if he may not be the brain behind the idea of converting Bryant into a playmaking guard, D’Antoni is a coach obsessed with spacing and moving the ball. When the Lakers were playing losing basketball, D’Antoni would constantly complain about the ball getting stuck, not moving, and the team not playing together.
The Lakers’ coach may never said anything directly negative about Bryant’s play, but the complaints being made only had one solution: pass the ball, Kobe.
During the well-documented team meeting in Memphis, one of the main story lines was Bryant’s confrontation of Dwight Howard. Bryant asked Howard if he had a problem with Bryant shooting too much. Following that meeting, this collection of all-stars morphed into a team with roles on it.
D’Antoni called that meeting.
Between Toronto, Chicago, and Memphis, D’Antoni took three losses, but he came back with a team that was desperate to do anything to avoid further embarrassment and failure. When the Lakers returned to Los Angeles, Gasol was on the bench, Bryant was a point guard, Steve Nash was shooting guard, and Howard was an active defender who shot more alley-oops than turn around hooks.
Whether or not he openly admits that he made some concessions, D’Antoni stopped forcing the Lakers to run. Rather than trying to get to 120 points and lose, D’Antoni has allowed this team to trot to 101 points and win. Howard even called the Lakers an “opportunity fast break team” following their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
When asked whether the Lakers have actually run the “D’Antoni system,” Chris Duhon, who played under D’Antoni in New York, said that the Lakers run the ideas of spacing and ball movement, but the first unit does not really run the “D’Antoni system.”
Even after the Lakers lost to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, Bryant did not seem worried. Despite blowing a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, Bryant expressed his belief.
“I’m pleased with how we’ve been playing lately,” Bryant said after the loss in Phoenix. “This is not like it was earlier in the year. This is a little different. We’re playing well…I’m not too concerned about it.”
Yes, the best scorer of the last two decades, arguably ever, suddenly became an assisting point guard half way through his 17th season in the NBA. D’Antoni deserves credit for creating an environment that forced Bryant to realize the best thing he could do for this team was to pass the ball, not shoot.
D’Antoni certainly was not the coach Los Angeles wanted, but he has become the coach Kobe Bryant and this team needed. Kobe Bryant became “Kobe Johnson” under Mike D’Antoni. He’s not Phil Jackson, but D’Antoni deserves considerable credit for what he’s doing with the Lakers and Kobe Bryant.
If Kobe rides this transformation into a sixth title, he may well win arguements over Michael Jordan as being the best guard to ever play the game.