Kobe Bryant may slowly be realizing his mortality from a physical standpoint, but age seemingly hasn't affected his trademark unrelenting and demanding leadership style.
If that means Mike D'Antoni has to lose his job, so be it. According to a report from Sporting News'
Whether Bryant should wield such power is another question entirely. Before this news broke, the Lakers announced the 16-time NBA All-Star would officially miss the rest of the season due to his fractured knee. Recovery, initially expected to take six weeks, has been slow, and the team understandably doesn't want to risk reaggravation in a lost season.
“Obviously this has been a frustrating and disappointing season, but I appreciate all the support I’ve received from the Lakers and the fans, and look forward to being back and ready for the start of training camp,” Bryant said in the press release.
CBS Sports' Chris Towers indicated this news might be the latest writing on the wall for Bryant's career:
Just as age has caught up to every other great athlete, so it will (and already has) with Kobe. Assuming he'll avoid it is naive.— Chris Towers (@CTowersCBS) March 12, 2014
In a meeting with reporters after the announcement, Bryant was typically candid in his remarks. He said he believed that, even if he's not at peak form next season, he'll be akin to the dominant scorer we've come to know. And when asked whether he would be willing to play through another disappointing season as part of a long-term rebuilding project, Bryant indicated he had "not one lick" of patience going forward:
How can I be satisfied with it? We're like 100 games under .500. I can't be satisfied with that at all. This is not what we stand for. This is not what we play for. A lot of times, it's hard to understand that message if you're not a die-hard Laker fan. It's hard to really understand where we're coming from, what we're used to, what we're accustomed to, which is playing for championships. Everything else is a complete failure. That's just how it is.
Coupled with the disgust of losing, Deveney's report is noteworthy given the happenings in New York City. The Knicks and former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson have been engaged in a particularly public negotiation over the last week, as New York attempts to give Jackson control of basketball operations. Carmelo Anthony told reporters Wednesday that Jackson will be coming "on board" (via ESPN), though neither side has made anything official at this time.
There has been a sentiment that Jackson's public flirtation with the Knicks was to force the Lakers' hand. Jackson is engaged to Lakers president Jeanie Buss, the daughter of late team owner Jerry Buss. While the overwhelming odds are that Jackson lands in New York, one could interpret this as a quiet nudging from Bryant to bring back his old coach—even if it remains a long shot.
Jackson, who has insisted he's retired from coaching, nearly came back to the Lakers bench last season before getting passed over for D'Antoni. In a recent interview with USA Today's Sam Amick, Jackson said he thought the late Dr. Buss ultimately made the surprising decision. Bryant seemed disappointed, though, that Jackson could entertain joining any other franchise.
"You know how I feel about Phil," Bryant said. "I have so much admiration for him, and respect, and have a great relationship with him. Personally, it would be hard for me to understand that happening twice. It would be tough. I don't really get it."
Lakers legend Magic Johnson also took to Twitter to relay his thoughts on Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and the current state of the Lakers organization:
I love Jim & Jeanie Buss, but we need Phil Jackson to be the face of our great organization, the Los Angeles Lakers.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) March 12, 2014
Kobe Bryant is the face of the Lakers' team. Who is the face of the Lakers' organization?— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) March 12, 2014
In signing Phil Jackson Owner Jim Dolan & Steve Mills are saying to the Knicks fans, they're ready to win now!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) March 12, 2014
Should Kobe Bryant have a say in who coaches the Lakers next year?
Whether he's pushing for a Jackson return or not, all signs point to a messy divorce with D'Antoni. The oft-criticized coach isn't typically one to mince words when these reports come out, and he's certainly not above spats with players that don't always stay in-house. He and Pau Gasol have been throwing public barbs back and forth for more than a year.
With Bryant signed, sealed and delivered for $48.5 million over the next two seasons, it looks like he wields the stick. The Lakers may slowly be reconsidering whether that's a good thing.
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