Kobe Bryant sits between rookie guard Darius Morris and assistant coach… (Paul Buck / EPA )
With the minutes ticking away, Kobe Bryant stood up.
This proved his time to shine. But this time, it had nothing to do with Bryant hitting a game-winning shot, setting up a teammate in the post or making a defensive stop. He's still sidelined because of a sore left shin. So beyond receiving treatement, Bryant's kept himself busy doing something else.
He placed his right hand on Coach Mike Brown's shoulder and pointed to something on the court while Andrew Bynum took a free throw in the waning minutes in regulation during the Lakers' eventual 112-108 overtime victory Sunday over the Dallas Mavericks. It sparked many examples where Bryant suddenly became what assistant coach John Kuester had described as the Lakers' "fifth assistant."
Bryant often sits between assistants Darvin Ham and Quin Snyder, and provides a presence beyond flashing his fashionable suits. During timeouts, he's routinely drawing up plays, speaking to teammates and patting them on the back. Brown considers the feedback "highly valuable."
"He's coming up with plays and watching things that are going on," Lakers center Andrew Bynum said. "He's telling us where the double teams are coming from and how we can be effective moving the basketball."
How he's explaining those concepts remain unclear. Bryant hasn't talked to reporters since his injury. His brief interview with ABC sideline reporter Heather Cox during the Lakers-Mavericks game centered on other things.
That included his left shin: "It's feeling a lot better, but the biggest key for us is we're still searching for the fountain of youth. The location remains a mystery, but we're still looking." Bryant talked about his pending return: "I'll be back well before the playoffs." And he marveled at the Lakers' 4-1 record without him: "Everybody is playing extremely well indivudually to help us as a whole but it's still within the context on what we do as a group."
But Lakers power forward Pau Gasol provided a glimpse into Bryant's coaching approach. It apparently deviates from his snarling and intense persona that's marked his reputation as a player.
"He's been very supportive and very positive to all the guys," Gasol said.
That doesn't mean Bryant has suddenly found his post-retirement career. He's said in the past he doesn't have interest in either coaching or working in the front office. Gasol and Metta World Peace doubted this recent stint has made him reconsider. Brown has jokingly argued coaching isn't the right profession because Bryant couldn't afford the Ferrari 458 Italian he recently purchased for a reported $329,000. He's seriously maintained Bryant wouldn't like it because he'd become frustrated that players couldn't duplicate what he's easily done with unmatched talent and work ethic.
But as far as Bryant's coaching while rehabbing his injury, the Lakers are soaking all the feedback he offers.
"He did a great job of talking to our players and a great job of giving us input throughout the game," Kuester said. "I'm very impressed with him."
Surmized Lakers forward Matt Barnes: "He's more talkative as a coach. He knows the game so well. For him to be able to sit back and see things out there, he sees things during the game. But to sit back and see the whole game, the little parts that he adds to it helps everybody."