Nobody would blame Kobe Bryant if he were frustrated with Mike D’Antoni. The Los Angeles Lakers are 9-13 right now. They are out of playoff contention (for the time being). They don’t look like anything even remotely resembling the contenders they were billed as before the year began. And, most importantly, D’Antoni has publicly admitted that he doesn’t know how to fix what ails his ballclub.
The stats are not as ugly as the final product has been. Offensively, Los Angeles is seventh in the NBA in points and field goal percentage per game. They’re second in rebounding. Sixth in three point percentage. Defensively, the Lakers are tied for 18th in points allowed per game, 13th in field goal percentage allowed and 15th in defensive efficiency. Prior to D’Antoni’s arrival, the Lakers were in the top 10 for all of those categories, too.
So again, given D’Antoni’s general uselessness, nobody would fault Kobe for being frustrated right now. During a recent interview with Stephen A. Smith, though, the Lakers captain refused to bite when given the opportunity to bash is new coach.
"I think Mike D is a very, very smart offensive coach," Bryant said. "He's not a man that is stuck in doing it one particular way. If it's not working, I'm sure he's open to mixing things up. I know that. He wants to be successful more than anything. It's not just about implementing his system. What's the end goal? The end goal is to win a championship. It's not playing a certain way."
If it’s not about playing a certain way, then what is it about?
"Mike said when he got here, to us, it's going to be a learning experience for me as well," Bryant said. "This is him addressing the team. He said, 'If you feel like I'm not using you to your strengths, if I'm not using you in the post as much as you like, let's talk about it and we can figure it out.'"
So what’s the secret formula, then?
Pau Gasol, apparently.
"I think he's the key to the whole thing," Bryant said of Gasol. "I think his ability to post the ball and make plays from the post and from the elbow, his shooting ability, his decision-making ability, we're not going to find that any place else. ... Now, it's on him to make sure he comes back in tip-top form, in tip-top condition, that his mind is in the right place, to play with the aggression and the moxie that he played with in 2010."
For better or worse, Kobe Bryant isn't going to throw his coach under the bus this time. If he’s frustrated, he isn’t letting anybody know about it.