There have been different signs that Bryant's power is slowly and surely being marginalized in Los Angeles, but nothing like the bombshell general manager Mitch Kupchak dropped during an interview with USA Today's Sam Amick.
"We will not consult with him," he said when asked if Bryant will factor into the team's decision to keep or fire head coach Mike D'Antoni. "No, we won't consult with him."
Well, this is awkward.
One would expect the Lakers to seek Bryant's approval for any franchise-altering moves. While he's 35, there's nearly 50 million reasons to believe he's still the team's primary building block. Disregarding his opinion sends mixed signals—especially on something like this.
And especially since Bryant has asked for such courtesy.
"I just want to get a phone call before somebody gets traded," Bryant said in March, per ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin. "Let's start there first."
Perhaps his desire to be kept in the loop doesn't extend to coaching decisions.
Or maybe not.
The Black Mamba has "no interest" in playing for D'Antoni next season, according to Sporting News' Sean Deveney. Are the Lakers really going to ignore that if it's true?
Strike that, probably.
If Bryant was still in his prime, the Lakers would most definitely take his feelings into consideration. Now that he's in the twilight of his career preparing to enter what could be his final two years in the NBA, his happiness isn't worth as much.
Although the Lakers are dead set on trying to land Bryant a sixth championship, they also have the post-Mamba era to think about. He has played in just six games this season, a stark reminder that he's only human and approaching his career's expiration date. The Lakers cannot unconditionally cater to his will anymore. They haven't for some time.
According to @mcten’s sources, the Lakers are “leaning towards relieving him of his coaching duties at the end of this season."— Lakers Nation (@LakersNation) April 8, 2014
Seeing Phil Jackson shuffle off to the Big Apple to assume control of the New York Knicks despite Bryant's open plea to Lakers management was the most obvious harbinger of his decrescent authority to this point. A few years ago, the Lakers likely accommodate Bryant's request in some form.
But this isn't a few years ago.
Times are changing. The Lakers didn't hire Jackson last season. They hired D'Antoni, electing to put distance between the present and past. Neglecting to consult Bryant on Magic Mike's future is a similar move, a necessary course of action.
Not to say Bryant won't get his purported wish (a new coach). According to McMenamin (via Lakers Nation), the Lakers are liable to move forward without D'Antoni:
If and when that decision is made, it won't be because of Bryant. Whether the Lakers keep D'Antoni or not, the choice is theirs.
It can't be.