Why Kobe Bryant Endorsing Lakers' Front Office Is Critical to the Future

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 10, 2014

Dec 13, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant warms up prior to the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off their second-worst season in franchise history, the Los Angeles Lakers may have 99 problems (at least), but a hostile Kobe Bryant can't be one.

Luckily, from the outside looking in, it doesn't sound like he will be.

The five-time champion expressed support for and confidence in the team's front office during a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. That endorsement is crucial for an executive staff needing to fill a coaching seat and roster spots aplenty in the coming months.

The 35-year-old sounded eager (almost excited) to see what siblings Jim Buss, executive vice president of basketball operations, and Jeannie Buss, team president, have in store for the organization moving forward, via Sporting News' Sean Deveney:

Jimmy and Jeannie both, they’re really determined and excited about the possibilities of next season and rebuilding this, building on their father’s legacy and everything he’s accomplished. They’re taking the challenge extremely, extremely seriously. They’re both on the same page and want nothing but excellence. So I have no doubt it will happen.

That's a far cry from the verbal assault the Mamba launched on these same executives back in March.

Now, there were perhaps some qualifiers that needed to be attached to that rant.

Reality was uncomfortably setting in on the 16-time All-Star. Not only had it recently become official that multiple leg injuries (Achilles, knee fracture) would cost him all but six games of the 2013-14 campaign, but he'd also watched helplessly as his former coach Phil Jackson slipped out of his grips and into the New York Knicks front office.

Mar 18, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks new president of basketball of operations Phil Jackson is introduced at a press conference at Madison Square Garden.  Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Bryant was hot, holding no punches in a complete fulmination against an apparently divided house of Purple and Gold.

From ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin:

I think we have to start at the top in terms of the culture of our team. What kind of culture do we want to have? What kind of system do we want to have? How do we want to play? It starts there and from there, you can start building out your team accordingly.

You got to start with Jim. You got to start with Jim and Jeanie and how that relationship plays out. It starts there and having a clear direction and clear authority.

Less than two months later, is it possible that all that water has rushed under the bridge? Perhaps, but that seems like a long shot at best.

What feels more likely, though, is that Bryant has realized that this front office has to be an ally—not an enemy. Rather than dig his foot deeper into the back of this franchise to move it forward, he's wrapped his arm around its shoulder to help it through these turbulent times.

Sure, that's not exactly an olive branch, but do those even exist in Bryant's garden? History says no, and that's fine.

Neither Bryant nor the Lakers need friends; they need competent business associates. They need a group of savvy minds working together to figure out how one builds something of substance with three guaranteed contracts on the roster, financial flexibility that might be best preserved for the future and a pressure-packed coaching seat to fill.

January 4, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni speaks to shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) during a stoppage in play against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vas

It doesn't sound easy, and it won't be.

Identifying the right leader might simplify the process. Despite this newfound trust of the front office, Bryant is hoping to have a say in that decision.

Given the track record of this regime, Bryant is right to want in on these talks. 

As Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times explained, when Jim Buss has embarked on his own coaching search, he's always returned with something that pushes the franchise in the wrong direction:

The Lakers basketball boss by virtue of his late father's will will be taking his fourth swing at hiring a head coach. Judging from past results, the Lakers should board up their El Segundo offices in advance of a powerful breeze.

Three hires, three wild swings, three magnificent strikes.

Rudy Tomjanovich lasted 43 games. Mike Brown lasted 71 games. And D'Antoni, who was a father-son hire, lasted 154 games.

Those were duct-tape hires, feeble attempts to hold together cores with (at best) good-not-great championship odds.

This one is different. The Lakers need to be rebuilt, not simply repaired.

While their plotted paths don't follow the same route, both Bryant and the Lakers have the same desired destination: winning. If there's a coach capable of taking them down the road back to relevance, that's the one Bryant wants.

There are no ulterior motives behind him wanting to have his input heard.

"It's not really about whether the players like the coach or not," he told Kimmel, via McMenamin. "It's really about getting results. Liking somebody and those results don't necessarily go hand-in-hand."

The kind of results Bryant wants may be unobtainable to the Lakers for the moment. This is a 27-win team relying on a 35-year-old shooting guard and his 40-year-old backcourt mate (Steve Nash).

Jan 20, 2013; Toronto, ON, Canada; Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash (10) talks to guard Kobe Bryant (24) against the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Lakers 108-103. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

While their piggy bank is full of salary-cap savings, there isn't likely to be an available player worth smashing it open for this summer, as Bleacher Report's Dan Favale noted:

Most star free agents won't be going anywhere. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will all stay with the Miami Heat for at least another year. Carmelo Anthony is more likely to remain with Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks or sign with the Chicago Bulls than join forces with a soon-to-be 36-year-old Bryant. 

After them, names like Kyle Lowry and Luol Deng take center stage. Neither of them will elevate the Lakers' status to where it needs to be, to where Bryant wants it to be.

That's what ultimately makes Bryant's support of this executive staff so critical.

His best interests and those of the franchise aren't the same. Bryant wants pieces that will make his final playing days as successful as possible. The Lakers need ones to prepare them for the time he's no longer around.

Somewhere between those differing motivations, L.A. needs to find an option that works for both sides.

Bryant won't be open to a patient approach. Not at first, anyway.

He'll find something to sell this team as a quick-fix option.

"Maybe it's Carmelo Anthony's unrestricted free agency or Eric Bledsoe's restricted free agency or Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love's trade possibilities," wrote Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding. "In Bryant's mind, there must be a way."

Bryant is understandably antsy.

It's not just the age of his body, but also the miles on it: 1,245 regular-season games, 220 more in the playoffs. His physical form is breaking down like never before, and his mind knows the end is uncomfortably close.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 10:   Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers sits in the locker room before a game against the Los Angeles Clippers at STAPLES Center on January 10, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges an
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

He also knows it's not here yet, so he's looking for every possible path back to significance. That competitive drive is impossible to turn off—that's what solidified his standing among the game's all-time greats.

The challenge for the Lakers is to scratch some of Bryant's competitive itch without tying their hands for the future. That's far easier said than done, but perhaps there's some combination of young talent (the Lakers should have a high lottery pick), bargain contributors and cap-friendly one-year contracts that gives him hope for the present and themselves a shot at better days ahead.

Bryant, publicly at least, is ready to listen. It might take the sales pitch of a lifetime, but at least the Lakers will have a chance to deliver it.

With so many other problems that need solving, what could have been the Lakers' biggest may not be one at all. Bryant still has buckets, dimes and a number of wins left to give, but an open ear to a front office in desperate need of one could be his greatest gift to the future of this franchise.