Pretend for a minute you’re a coach of world champion basketball team. A team who’s name is synonymous around the world with a winning culture. Pretend for a minute you have perhaps the greatest player of all time playing on your team. A player who time and time again has ripped victory from the jaws of defeat. Pretend for a minute you are down 14 points, with 6 minutes left in the last quarter, in a game where you’re fans and management demand a win. Pretend for a minute, you bench you’re best player. Welcome to the Staples Center, March 25th 2012. Los Angeles Lakers v Memphis Grizzles.
Sunday night at Staples took an interesting turn when with 6 minutes remaining in the final quarter, and trailing the Grizzlies by 14 points, Lakers head coach Mike Brown benched Kobe Bryant. Yes, you read that right. It wasn’t the best night for the Black Mamba, shooting 7/15 from the field for his 18 points, but Bryant took far less shots than he would on any regular occasion. In fact, he shot better than Pau Gasol who finished with only 4/15 from the field.
But, with only 6 minutes remaining and the team trailing by 14, Brown benched Bryant. Sending him to the end of the bench. Bryant sat quietly, his head wrapped in a towel, waiting. He was replaced by Metta World Peace who is having one of his worst seasons since joining the league. Brown thought it could work. It didn’t. In the 2.5 minutes Bryant was off the court the team continued to lack efficiency and drive, missing shots and looking sluggish.
Chants of KOOO-BEEE echoes around the Staples center.
Bryant walked to the scorer’s table, expecting to be put back into the game, but soon returned to the bench after realizing there was an impending timeout. During this timeout, Bryant walked away from Brown’s huddle early, before the play call, and stood waiting at the top of the key. Evidently, the Mamba was unhappy.
Two minutes to pull back some form of respectable score, and Kobe did exactly that. Burying a three and orchestrating play the Lakers pulled back within 4. But the damage was done. The Lakers fell to a resilient Grizzlies by 6 points.
Now, we can’t blame the loss on this issue alone. The Grizzlies played incredibly determined basketball and completely shut down LA. Forcing turnovers, stealing rebounds and shooting 42% from the field they seemed a different team to the one that lost 8 of it’s previous 10.We can’t blame it all on the benching of Kobe because this loss was simply a team effort throughout the entire 48 minutes. The Lakers played sluggish basketball and looked as though they simply did not want to be there.
The question really is, what is the situation between Bryant and Brown? Kobe is too loyal to speak out against his coach and still defends his actions hinting that he and Brown still have a good relationship, but body language and things such as a late benching point all signs to the contrary.
“It’s his decision to make. He’s the coach. If you guys are looking for a story, I’m not going to contribute to it,” demonstrated a clearly frustrated Bryant “I can’t sit here and criticize his decisions. Leading this ball club, that’s not something I can afford to do. I had his back the whole season. I can’t start doing something crazy now. It would make no sense.”
Brown was much more reliant on the fact that he treats Bryant the same as any other player. He seems to think that keeping Bryant grounded is indeed the best option.
“I treat him the same as everybody most of the time,” Brown said. “Obviously he’s a superstar and when you have a superstar, you try to give some leeway because they’ve been there and done that. If I make a sub for somebody, I don’t always feel like I have to explain to them why I made a sub.”Smart, or incredibly stupid? We’ll let you be the judge
Smart? Or incredibly stupid? We’ll let you be the judge, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that one of the greatest players to wear the purple and gold is struggling with the new system that this Lakers team is adopting. Wherever the Lakers end up, you can be sure that the drama that constantly surrounds the team will continue, and in the end, the Black Mamba will have the final say.