Mike D’Antoni coached the Lakers the past two seasons, and despite the opinions of many of the team’s loyal fans, he wasn’t to blame for the struggles in Los Angeles.
D’Antoni was, however, criminally negligent in one specific regard. And if Friday night’s contest against the Spurs was any indication, the team’s head coach this season is following in his footsteps.
Near the end of the 2013 season, when the Lakers were furiously trying to make a postseason push with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash on the roster, Kobe Bryant began to log an insane number of minutes. He was defiant in press conferences when asked about it, essentially saying that it was what he believed was necessary to help his team win at all costs, and seemed to be almost daring D’Antoni to try and stop him.
Well, D’Antoni didn’t. He allowed Bryant to play 47, 47, 42, 47, 41 and 48 minutes in consecutive contests, with that final 48-minute performance coming on the second night of a back-to-back set. Two days later (and more than 44 minutes into a game where Bryant did not look right physically for most of it), Bryant suffered a ruptured Achilles that ended that season, and cost him much of the following one, as well.
Fast forward to Friday night, where Bryant clearly didn’t seem to be himself. He finished just 1-of-14 from the field, but this wasn’t one of those performances that was laughable due to Bryant’s desire to launch heavily-contested shots. No, this one was different — as the team’s current head coach, Byron Scott, explained to reporters afterward.
Lakers coach Byron Scott revealed that the 36-year-old Bryant had played 36 minutes while sick. Bryant has played ill many times before, and he had willed his body to overcome on those nights, to still put up big numbers. …
“He’s in the training room right now, and he doesn’t look good,” Lakers guard Jeremy Lin said. “I just got out of there, and he doesn’t look good at all.” …
The bigger question: Why did he play so much, especially in a lopsided game that the Spurs led by as much as 26 points in the second half?
Scott said he did think about sitting Bryant.
“But he also wanted to see if he could push through it,” Scott said, “and I wanted to give him that opportunity.”
Scott has to be smarter than that.
In the 2012-2013 season, the Lakers were at least fighting for their playoff lives. And, without Bryant yet possessing a recent history of suffering serious injuries, D’Antoni may have been able to personally justify coaching while keeping his blinders on.
But this season, there is no such justification for pushing Bryant beyond his physical limits. The Lakers are not set up from a personnel standpoint to be able to compete on most nights, and someone has to be the adult in these situations, doing what’s best for the franchise player’s long-term ability to contribute until his contract is finished.
D’Antoni wasn’t able to play that role, and the consequences were devastating. We’ll see if Scott learns from his similar mistake to not rein Bryant in on a night where he most certainly should have.