Kobe Bryant once considered Mike D’Antoni both a childhood idol when he grew up watching him play overseas in Italy and an “offensive genius” when the Lakers hired him to coach about two years ago. But Bryant’s sentiments soon changed as the he developed a dislike for D’Antoni’s fast-paced system through the Lakers’ two injury-plagued seasons.
Hence, why D’Antoni admitted in an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio that he viewed coaching Bryant with mixed feelings.
First the positives. D’Antoni could not rave enough about Bryant’s work ethic. The Lakers’ star has averaged a league-leading 26.7 points albeit on a career-low 39.1 percent shooting after playing in only six games last season amid injuries to his left Achilles tendon and left knee.
“His ability to have a volume of work that he does. I didn’t have any doubt he would come back from the two injuries other than age. If it’s humanly possible, he’s going to do it,” D’Antoni said about Bryant. “He’ll keep it going as long as it’s humanly possible. He’ll try to be the best that has ever played the game. Being around him every day and watching him every day work that hard is incredible.”
“The tough part about coaching him is that he has that determination and near sightedness that he doesn’t see the fringes too much,” D’Antoni said. “He’s going to go over you, under you, but he gets right to where he wants to go. Sometimes that makes it tough to coach him.”
D’Antoni’s challenges through two years with the Lakers went beyond having a positive relationship with Bryant. D’Antoni’s 67-87 record (.435) through two seasons entailed countless injuries, mixed support for his fast-paced system and subpar defensive performances. It also did not help that the Lakers chose him after the general public believed the job would go to Phil Jackson, who won five of his 11 NBA championships with the Lakers.
D’Antoni then resigned after the 2013-14 season after the Lakers declined to provide assurances they would exercise his team option to secure him for the 2015-16 season. D’Antoni had two years on his contract, and wanted to remove any lame-duck status. Despite D’Antoni resigning, the Lakers still owe him a portion of the $4 million he would have made this season had he still been coaching.
“You want to coach a certain way and have a certain style and you hope everybody would be on the same page,” D’Antoni said. “We weren’t always. It’s a tough situation to hit and miss. If you’re not on the same page from the top of management down to the water boy, then you’re going to have some problems. In a public place like, la, it wasn’t easy sledding. But I wouldn’t change the experience. It was great. I got to work with some of the greatest players in the game. Although it wasn’t pleasant all the time, I think I’m a richer person for having done it.”
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