Brown: Kobe Deserves Freedom
Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers has been one of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA for over a decade.
As great as he is individually, there are times when Bryant goes “vortex,” taking too many shots regardless of how efficient his inside players are performing (Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, etc.).
Most recently in a loss to the Denver Nuggets on New Year’s Day, he took 28 attempts, connecting on six and totaling 16 points while center Bynum had 18 on just 12 shots and Gasol 20 on 15.
Getting Kobe to take his foot off the gas was a lengthy challenge for Coach Phil Jackson. At times, Bryant shot the Lakers into games. On occasion he would shoot them out.
More often than not, the Lakers would win. Jackson was willing to take the good with the bad.
Now it’s Coach Mike Brown’s responsibility to make sure the Lakers harness Bryant’s ability while also taking advantage of team’s pair of skilled big men.
“[Bryant's] got five championship rings and Bynum and Gasol have maybe one or two, so I’m going to go with the man who’s got five,” said Brown. “Whatever he does, obviously I’m going to coach him but I’ve got to get to know him and in order for me to get to know him and his game, he’s going to make mistakes and I’m going to make mistakes out on the floor.”
“That’s why we sit and watch and tape afterwards,” continued Brown. “So we can better understand where he wants the ball or he can better understand what I want on this particular possession or anything like that. I think it’s pretty neat that everybody’s making a big deal of it but it’s early in the process, I’m getting to know him, he’s got the five . . . championship rings, so he’s been there and done that. I’m going to give him some freedom.”
Of course when Bryant is shooting 40.2% from the field through the team’s first six games, notably playing through a painful, limiting wrist injury, wouldn’t it make more sense to get the ball inside?
“You know how when you’re in elementary school there’s that sign . . . that’s just less than or greater than and if something’s greater than, I think the alligator’s mouth opens to it,” said Brown.
In other words, the higher percentage shot is the better shot but how does Brown get Bryant to recognize that when the jumper simply isn’t falling?
“He’s a great player and you’ve got to give great players, in my opinion, some freedom,” said Brown. “When I was in Indiana, we felt that, at the time, Metta [World Peace] and Jermaine [O'Neal] and got freedom. In San Antonio, Tim Duncan, he got freedom, Cleveland, LeBron [James] got freedom, Mo [Williams] got more freedom than Boobie Gibson, that’s how it is here.”
If Brown is deferring to Kobe, at what point does he have to become a disciplinarian?
“You guys can say I’m rolling over, say I’m deferring to him,” said Brown. “Look, Kobe’s a superstar, he’s been there, done that. You’ve got to give. He can score. You’ve got to give him more freedom than I give Darius Morris. I’ve got to give Kobe more freedom than I may give Pau Gasol. I’m going to give Kobe more freedom than Derek Fisher. That’s it. There’s nothing more to it.”
That doesn’t mean Bryant is free of any responsibility, even if Coach Brown is willing to give him a long rope.
“I love to keep my timeouts for the end of the half, especially the end of the game,” said Brown. “I’ll blow a timeout in a heartbeat if Kobe’s not getting back on defense or if he blows an assignment . . . I’ve called a timeout specifically to say, ‘Kobe, you’ve got to get back.’”
“I’m going to coach him.” continued Brown. “I’m going to coach him offensively, defensively, but in the same breath I’ve got to give him some freedom too because of who he is and what he’s done and I’ve got to learn what he’s capable of doing in the framework of our offense right now. Him going 6 for 28, obviously it bothers me from the standpoint that I wish he would have made more (so we would have had a better chance of winning), but am I concerned about it at this point? Now, two months from now if he’s shooting 34% from the field, I might have a lot of concerns.”
On Tuesday night against the Houston Rockets, the Lakers got an uneven first half from Bryant, with 15 points on 5-14 shooting while Bynum seemed frustrated with the lack of touches. Andrew had a double-double at the break (14 points and 12 boards).
Bryant would have a much stronger second half, making nine of 15 shots for a total of 37 points.
Bynum finally achieved a career-long goal of a 20-20 game, his first, with 21 points and 22 rebounds while shooting 8-15 from the field.
Gasol scored 14 on just 7-11 shooting from the field. As a team the Lakers shot 52.6% from the field and held Houston to 99 points on 42.7% shooting from the field.
Coach Jackson always found it a challenge to coach Kobe Bryant, a welcome challenge.
Brown, now in a similar position, is more forthright publicly in the allowances made to star players.
Who was the last NBA coach to truly challenge his star and survive their star? Larry Brown in Philadelphia with Allen Iverson?
It’s a players’ league and Bryant is arguably its biggest star worldwide.
Brown has a challenge ahead of him. Some argue he didn’t do enough to reign in LeBron James in Cleveland. Is this a different situation?
Los Angeles is trying to move forward beyond the Jackson era without leaving the championships behind.
They’re currently 4-3, just one game behind the top-seeded Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder in the very early Western Conference standings.
The Lakers will visit the Blazers on Thursday night.