His biggest crime was not being
The team spent most of the year pushing through injuries (
By the time the Lakers faced the
Bryant is set to return Sunday night when the Lakers host the
In Bryant's absence, D'Antoni did a tremendous job of getting his odd mix of players to win 10 of their first 19 games.
For the Lakers, celebrating a record just one game above .500 isn't normal, but then Bryant's injury was an extreme circumstance.
When the season started, D'Antoni said the team had a short list of needs to be successful this season, starting with resurgent years from Nash and Gasol, plus a strong return from Bryant.
Instead Nash has missed most of the season with back trouble, and Gasol spent the first few weeks of the season getting back into shape after offseason knee procedures and more recently has been playing through a
Bryant sat out past opening night, beyond Thanksgiving and into December.
And yet the Lakers stand at 10-9, which would slot the team third in the anemic Eastern Conference.
It's far more difficult in the West, where the Lakers are in 10th place -- and yet the Pacific Division rival Clippers are only 2½ games ahead, the
The Lakers weren't supposed to make the playoffs this season, according to many experts, and yet with Bryant about to make his debut, his team still has a very real chance to win the division.
D'Antoni has managed to get the most out of first-round castoffs like
Blake was the hero with a game-winning shot over Howard and the
Who exactly Bryant will be this season, post-Achilles' tendon tear, remains to be seen.
Integrating the All-Star guard into the lineup won't be seamless, but D'Antoni deserves credit for what he's already accomplished this season with a rag-tag lot that never seems to quit.
D'Antoni is not Jackson, but then General Manager
The Lakers have a long road ahead but the chemistry is strong, the team plays hard and D'Antoni has shown that he deserves serious consideration as a coach capable of guiding a team in transition.