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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
He might as well have added, Are you listening, Dwight?
One of Bryant's idols growing up in Italy was D'Antoni, then one of the top guards in the Italian League. Before he switched to number 24 in 2006--07, Bryant wore number 8 because that was D'Antoni's number. But Kobe is now about as far from a starry-eyed kid as one can get; he and D'Antoni do not by any means have a tutor-tyro relationship. Bryant earned his spurs, and his rings, under Jackson.
That said, coach and superstar get along fine, and, to a certain extent, Bryant is uncoachable. That's not a knock. He is smart about the game and stubborn about himself, and so a coach had better give him a lot of rope. Which D'Antoni does. Against the Clippers, for example, his plan was to match Bryant up against slippery point guard Chris Paul. But Bryant preferred the conventional matchup against Chauncey Billups, and that's how it was done. (For the record, Kobe didn't do much guarding of Billups—21 points, including five three-pointers—and Nash didn't do much guarding of Paul, who had 24 points and 13 assists.)
D'Antoni has much work ahead of him—finding a way to get through to Howard, opening up the diplomatic door to Gasol, milking something out of Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks, two off-the-bench guards. But figuring out what to do with Kobe isn't D'Antoni's job. Figuring it out with him is a better way to put it.
"What's gone wrong? I can't pinpoint it. The coaching changes? The personnel changes? The injuries? It's frustrating. I don't even know where to start. It's baffling."
Hmm ... Not good news when that comes from Kupchak, whose job it is to figure out what's gone wrong.
But he's only being honest. It is all baffling because no one on the Lakers has played badly—not even the much-maligned Howard, who is averaging 16.3 points and 11.8 rebounds.
D'Antoni claims that the Lakers' collective talent ranks among the top four in the league, which is abnormal for a struggling coach to say, lest he be accused of underachieving. "I know we haven't shown it, but there are reasons," says D'Antoni. "Kobe and Pau played under Phil's system for a long time, so they were used to that. Then Mike Brown came in and changed everything. Then I came in and there's another change. And it's been really hard to establish consistency with all the injuries. It takes time. But we can do it. I firmly believe that."
Around L.A. these days there are more ideas about how to fix the Lakers than there are in-development scripts. Fire D'Antoni. Get Kobe back to shooting more—or, no, have him shoot less. Don't rely on Nash so much—no, turn the offense over to Steve. Play Jamison more than Earl Clark at the four—no, play Clark 30 minutes a game.