Managing Kobe Bryant’s Return from Injury Is Mike D’Antoni’s Toughest Task Yet

Mike D'Antoni hasn't coached Kobe Bryant yet. Not really.

Taking the reigns of the Los Angeles Lakers midway through November, Magic Mike stood on the sidelines, crossed his arms, bellowed out plays on occasion and balanced the insufferable ego of Dwight Howard with the bruised psyche of Pau Gasol.

His new position stipulated he manage the minutes and decisions of 13 to 14 other players, Superman included. It even required that he experiment and re-engineer his systematic ideals to befit the strengths of his players.

What he didn't do, what he never had to do was coach Kobe. I mean really coach Kobe. 

Seventeen years deep into his career, there was no coaching Kobe. That is, unless he needed to be coached, which he didn't.

Last season he didn't need any external guidance, and D'Antoni couldn't afford to give him any. Not with the Lakers falling as far as 17-25 and seemingly unable to successfully navigate the labyrinth of injuries, social conflicts and chemistry issues in their midst.

There was no circumventing the potential lottery finish without the Black Mamba on the floor. These Lakers, lost and decrepit, don't make the playoffs if Kobe doesn't average 38.6 minutes a night over the course of 78 games.

We saw what happened when Howard saddled up as Los Angeles' lifeline after the team clinched the very playoff berth Kobe willed them toward. Four straight losses, an embarrassing ejection and one predictable postseason exit later the results weren't pretty.

If you thought most of the regular season was ugly, imagine how it would have unfolded without Kobe doing what he did. Not just some of it, all of it. The minutes, the points, the assists—all of it.

Chaos would have ruled the streets of Hollywood and the Staples Center more than it ultimately did. Remember that.

Then accept that whatever Kobe did, D'Antoni h...

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