Column: Kobe Bryant doesn’t doubt the Zen Master

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A Princeton offense in a Showtime town? Not with Jack Nicholson and the rest of Hollywood’s elite sitting courtside, you don’t. Not when there are huge television deals, huge contracts, and huge luxury tax payments on the horizon.

This was a team built to win now, a team with aging stars in Bryant and Steve Nash that couldn’t afford to wait to gel. Yes, Dwight Howard is still playing at about 50 percent of his ability as he works himself back into shape after back surgery, but the sum of this team was still far less than its parts.

Bryant went on Facebook to claim he had a good relationship with Brown and to wish him his best. But his biggest statement may have come on the court against the Warriors, where he dominated as if to declare the Brown era was over and a new one was beginning.

The Lakers can only hope this coaching change turns out as well as another early season firing did for the team 31 years ago. Paul Westhead was the coach then, but Magic Johnson was unhappy with his offensive system and asked to be traded early in the season, and Westhead was fired with the Lakers just 7-4 on the year.

His replacement was an assistant named Pat Riley, who took the team to the NBA title that year and ended up coaching three more championships in LA.

A content Kobe playing for the coach he admires most isn’t going to make that happen by himself. He can still take over individual games, but for the season-long grind he’ll need Nash to return from injury, Howard to keep improving, and Pau Gasol to play as hard as Bryant likes him to.

The Lakers will also need to figure out a way to play defense, something they refused to do much of under Brown, who built his reputation as a defensive coach.

It won’t be an easy task, even if they get Jackson. There are no guarantees, especially when the road to any title goes through LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

But if Bryant doesn’t doubt the Zen Master, Laker fans shouldn’t either.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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