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Kobe Bryant is used to hearing comparisons to the NBA's all-time greats, to everyone from Michael Jordan to Elgin Baylor, but Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni referenced not just a different sport but a different species in describing Bryant on Tuesday.
"Kobe is a unique individual and he is very headstrong," D'Antoni told "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" on ESPN Radio. "And one of the reasons why he's been the best in the game, and will be and is, is that he is that way.
"You are definitely not handling him, you are trying to work with him. And he has certain ideas and you take that away from him and then he becomes a little bit more normal. And he is anything but normal. So it's a challenge at the same time.
"It's probably like riding Secretariat. I mean, you get up there, there's a lot of times all you are doing is riding. He's carrying you. And Kobe's carrying us a lot. Obviously you would like certain things to soften up, but you can't take away his spirit."
Secretariat, of course, is the thoroughbred racehorse that won the Triple Crown in 1973 and captivated the nation.
Bryant, meanwhile, is missing opening night for the first time since 2006 as he recovers from Achilles surgery on his left leg. D'Antoni confirmed after the shootaround that Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol were the Lakers' starters against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Bryant played an average of 45.7 minutes in the seven games leading up to suffering the Achilles tear on April 12 and later suggested it was his decision to play as much as he did and that D'Antoni could not have benched him even if the coach had tried.
D'Antoni was asked if a more aggressive coaching style would be better suited for dealing with the headstrong Bryant.
"I better carry around an elephant gun or something," D'Antoni joked. "Old coaches, I think everybody will tell you, you got to be who you are, because you try to be somebody you are not and it'll get you. It might work for five minutes but it's not going to work in the long run. I try to stick to who I am and try to make it work. I think the bottom line, even though there are some bumps and bruises here and there, is Kobe will lead you to victories.
"And sometimes you have to swallow your pride a little bit. You can't get into a 'put him in a corner, put me in a corner' kind of match. You don't get that far. Sometimes it takes just trying to figure it out together. Ultimately he wants to do the same thing I do. He wants to be great and win. And I want him to be great and win. So we just got to try to figure it out."
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday he would like to see Bryant play in the remaining three Lakers-Clippers games this season.
"I have two sides to that. The competitive side of me says 'yes,' " Rivers said. "The rational side of me thinks other things. I mean, he's going to be back. I want him to be back, I really do. I think Kobe is important to L.A. I think he's important to the NBA and I think we should cherish him as long as he's going to play and I really believe that. I couldn't stand playing against him in Boston.
"I will not enjoy playing against him here, but I do like seeing him on the floor. He's a rare one. He's a one percenter. There is very few guys to ever play like Kobe Bryant and I think all of us, every time we get a chance, we should take that chance and watch him play."
In the meantime, the Lakers will try to figure out how to win without Bryant, who is sidelined indefinitely as he continues the rehabilitation process.
With Bryant out, Dwight Howard with the Houston Rockets and the rest of the Lakers' roster revolving around aging superstars in Nash and Gasol, D'Antoni acknowledged that making the postseason will be a tall task.
"I can understand why ESPN, I think they picked us 12th and I understand that," D'Antoni said, referencing the ESPN.com NBA Summer Forecast that predicted the Lakers would finish 12th in the Western Conference. "If my producer told me, 'OK, make them 12th,' I could put out a case there why they're 12th.
"But if my producer says, 'Make them a playoff team,' here you go: Kobe gets well, Steve Nash has a very good year, Pau Gasol is one of the best centers in the league, they put it together, a couple of the young guys reach the potential that they haven't yet, and that's what we have to do.
"Maybe I have about six scenarios and four of them have to work out. You know, Xavier Henry has to have a really, really good year -- up to now he has bounced around a little bit -- so just so many things like that that we're working on, and if that happens, then yeah, we'll make the playoffs."