Tex Winter, the Triangle and Kobe Bryant ‘The Closer’

It’s not an easy offense to grasp. The idea is to orchestrate the flow of movement in order to lure the defense off balance and create opportunities to open players. It’s virtually unstoppable against defenses, simply because it keeps them guessing. There are no set plays. Should the defense prevent a move, the offensive players adjust and start another series of cuts and passes that can possibly even lead to a better shot.

Perhaps it’s difficult to imagine a world where Bryant and the word selfless are synonymous with each other. Bryant’s competitive drive and instinctive scoring mentality sometimes prevent him from utilizing the triangle for the full 48-minute basketball game. The six basic offensive principles described by Winter in the triangle offense don’t really include running consecutive plays for Bryant in the isolation.

Then again there’s almost always an exception to the rule, and usually Bryant fits that category.

Lakers scribe Roland Lazenby describes in his blog Lakernoise how Bryant, like Michael Jordan, is the type of player for which a seventh principle was added by Winter to the triangle offense. He describes both as having the capabilities of putting up outstanding offensive numbers that you have to have a rule that trumps the other six. Still the idea is to take over games when necessary, yet have the sense to know when to also get your teammates involved.

No one has done that better than Bryant, or at least more consistently than Bryant has over the last two championship runs and the Lakers current campaign towards title No. 17.

The dichotomy between Kobe the prolific scorer and Kobe the facilitator isn’t an anomaly, it’s essentially by design. Bryant is always referring to reading the defense and making key passes to get others involved in the offense when he’s being chased down by multiple defenders. At those times he goes into facilitator mode. Then there are those times when he’s poised to take the last-second shot or go on scoring binges. The two morphed into one are what makes Bryant the ultimate closer, the guy you want making the decisions down the stretch.

The decision to pass or shoot isn’t the easiest and it’s not one that Bryant has always opted to use in perfect balance, but like all things it’s a progression. Where would Bryant be if it were not for Winter’s influence and Jackson’s benevolent insistence on utilizing a system that’s proven to work keep his own selfish tendencies at bay for the greater good of the team?

Jordan used to refer to the triangle as an “equal opportunity offense,” and although he wasn’t completely sold on the idea of experimenting with the triangle, Jackson eventually coaxed him into accepting it and championships ensued in bunches of three. Jordan was another player, who like Bryant found that the best way to win was too involve his teammates.

Bryant won his first and what could be perhaps his only MVP award by finally proving himself to be a both a facilitator and leader. The Lakers subsequently went on to win two consecutive championships and possibly a third come June. It’s no doubt due in part to the contributions made by Winter in Bryant’s development as a player while he was sitting along with the other assistant coaches on the Lakers bench. Although he’s no longer with the team, we witness Winter’s influence on Bryant when he makes plays such as the aforementioned that cemented the Lakers championship win over the Celtics. Perhaps the best is yet to come.

In that regard, Winter is still serving the game of basketball in a great capacity.

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