For his entire life, Kobe Bryant has modeled himself, and his career, after his idol Michael Jordan.
He patterned his game after Jordan, starting out as an explosive scorer and morphing into an efficient jump shooter late in his career. He’s got almost as much championship hardware – five rings to Jordan’s six.
The difference is Jordan willed his teammates into performing for fear of disappointing him. That’s not the case with Kobe. Over the course of his career, his teammates haven’t feared him; they’ve just plain hated him.
Now as Kobe hits what he calls “the most challenging stretch” of his career, it’s time to adjust his leadership style, or his Lakers might end up being one of the most disappointing basketball teams ever.
The Lakers currently sit at 9-13, even though they have four future Hall of Famers on the roster. In typical Kobe fashion, during this time his actions have fell somewhere between ill-timed and flat-out bizarre.
Rather than willing his team on the defensive end, he’s talking about lily pads and meditation processes.” Rather than helping a teammate through a funk, he’s belittling him through the media. Rather than being a professional through the process, he’s dropping f bombs during interviews.
Kobe has been in the league for 17 seasons He has played with hundreds of dozens of personalities during that time, and treated them all the same (like a jerk). If he really wants to tie or win more rings than his idol, he’s going to have to change that leadership style immediately.
Just look at the players on his roster. Dwight Howard is clearly still hurt, and his free throw shooting is infuriating Kobe. Rumor has it that he’s already verbally undressed Howard in practice. Tactics like that won’t work.
Howard wants to have fun and be liked. To approach him, Kobe has to almost treat him like a little brother. Stroke his ego, tell him how much better he was than Shaquille O’Neal when he played with him, and show that they won’t win the championship without Howard playing like one of the top-three players in basketball. Work with him on his free throws and be supportive. Howard is a big baby…coddle him like one.
Kobe should already know better with Gasol. Gasol is a physically great player, but a mentally soft one. It’s clear that he’s uncomfortable in his new role in the offense where he has to shoot from the elbows rather than go to work inside. Kobe has the authority to speak to coach Mike D’Antoni and voice that Gasol should get more work on the block. Most coaches aren’t going to listen to players in this situation, but Kobe’s the one guy who D’Antoni will heed advice from (especially considering his job may depend on it).
Speaking of D’Antoni, the early returns on his hire haven’t been nearly as much as Lakers brass had hoped. Not surprisingly, the Lakers defense has slipped considerably with D’Antoni at the helm. Kobe needs to show the team – both vocally and through his play – that the team has to step up in a big way on the defensive end. He’s the leader, so they need to take their cue for defensive intensity from him.
Other than Howard, Gasol and Kobe, there’s not much left in terms of talent on the Lakers roster. Kobe typically clashes with players that either underperform, or aren’t very talented (read: Smush Parker, Kwame Brown and Jodie Meeks). He needs to empower those guys. Cheer them on when they perform and let them know what parts of their games they’re good at and need to work on perfecting. If the Lakers are going to win it all, those guys will have to be better and its Kobe’s job to do everything in his power to help them get there.
The team is still incomplete, as Steve Nash hasn’t had a chance to run the high-powered D’Antoni offense. When Nash comes back from injury, Kobe needs to hand over the reigns to the offense to him. Let Nash get him easy shots, get everyone involved, and generally run the team. We all know it’s Kobe’s team, but lets at least act like Nash is a co-owner.
Kobe’s dominance won’t propel the Lakers deep into the playoffs. His leadership, the way he interacts with teammates, and the way he can help mesh this star-studded roster can.
If Kobe wants to match his idol Jordan in championships, he’ll have to stop acting like Kobe and start acting like the leader he always claims to be.
Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter @StefenLovelace