Even though there were plenty of red flags about Mike D'Antoni, a coach who has never been known for defense and likes to run an offensive system that encourages players to shoot the ball in seven seconds or less, coaching a veteran--and old--Laker team that seemed to be built for the triangle, high-post offense, Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant initially thought D'Antoni's hire could work.
He has now conceded he was wrong.
"Obviously, this isn't working," Bryant told Yahoo! Sports after the reeling Lakers lost on the road on Monday night to the Chicago Bulls 95-83. The Lakers are 17-24, but they are still remarkably only three games behind in the loss column to Houston for the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.
Bryant has five NBA titles, and, playing in Chicago, he was surely reminded of Michael Jordan, who has six. Bryant is chasing Jordan, whom Phil Jackson--the coach the Lakers passed on in order to curiously hire D'Antoni--also coached. The 34-year-old Bryant, who is in his 17th season in the NBA, knows he is not getting any younger and the window for him to win more championships is closing.
Bryant grew up idolizing D'Antoni, who was a teammate of his father's in Italy. D'Antoni also was an assistant coach on the USA Olympic team and coached Bryant. Many believed that is why Byrant initially gave D'Antoni the benefit of the doubt.
D'Antoni benched Laker center Pau Gasol before the game in favor of Earl Clark, presumably because the former Louisville star could run the court faster in D'Antoni's offensive scheme. That seemed to draw Bryant's ire, but not as much as Laker center Dwight Howard has in recent weeks. Howard and Bryant have clashed this season on and off the court. Bryant is intense and serious. Howard often is less than serious. And they have traded veiled criticisms of each other in recent weeks. There were reports that the two superstars almost got into a brawl after the Lakers lost on New Year's Day in Philadelphia.
"I've tried to go out of my way to get him the ball," Bryant said. "Sometimes I end up looking like an idiot, because I get up in the air, I've got a shot, but I try to find him."
Bryant added that he has "constantly tried to help him out, tried to talk to him," and implied Howard may not understand how important the basketball culture is to Los Angeles. Fans in Los Angeles follow the Lakers as intensely as Boston and New York teams follow their respective teams and Southerners follow SEC football. And the talk radio culture is also similar.
"He's coming off a major surgery in a market where it's just merciless; where there's demands and responsibilities of athletes," Bryant said. "It's been tough on him."
Bryant suggested the Lakers just needed to "go back to basics," implying they need to dump D'Antoni's offensive schemes.
"We need to put guys in positions to do what they do best," Bryant said. "We need to strip it down. Steve is best in pick-and-roll. Pau is best in the post. I'm best from the free-throw line extended down. Let's go back to basics."
Bryant also said Lakers management is looking at the situation:
"We've got to evaluate what's going on. Management is looking at it. The players are looking at it. I'm looking at myself. I'm shooting a low percentage right now, and I've got to look at that. It's on me to make shots, but I'm having to make tough shots, getting the ball 30 feet from the basket and [expletive] like that."
He fell short of criticizing Jim Buss, the Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations who runs the franchise. Buss is widely believed to have passed on Phil Jackson--due to personal animosity--earlier in the year after Mike Brown was unceremoniously dumped. Many believe not hiring Jackson, whose triangle offense seems to be tailor-made for an aging Lakers team with two high-post players in Gasol and Howard, sent the Lakers spiraling downward.