During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Bryant admitted he wished to offer some insight on the matter after the Lakers failed to ask for his thoughts on the failed signings of Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni (via ESPN LA): “On the last two they didn't. On the third one, I'm hoping they do."
On the other hand, Kupchak stated earlier this month that Bryant wouldn’t have a say in the search for a new leader, and that’s probably true to an extent.
One might be inclined to believe that Kupchak is merely posturing. Bryant is after all an all-time great, and his words should carry weight.
That sounds great in theory, because your best player should have some type of sway in the organization. In the case of Bryant, he’s not just L.A.’s best player—he might just be the embodiment of everything associated with the Lakers.
At the conclusion of victories, the Lakers play the song “I Love L.A.” over the Staples Center speakers, but they might as well make a remix and turn it into “I Love Kobe.”
Bryant is the proud owner of five championship rings he collected with the Lakers, and he was also named the player of the last decade.
Furthermore, Bryant (as well as Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan) carried the torch after Michael Jordan’s retirement until LeBron James was ready to do the same.
Kobe has a legion of fans who swear by him and would happily tell you he is the best player in the league despite missing 76 games this season because of an Achilles tear and knee fracture.
The loyalty to Bryant stems from his success, but there’s certainly more to it. The Lakers’ all-time leading scorer has laughed in the face of obstacles throughout his career and conquered them all when many doubted him.
Too much of a showboat to win with Shaq? The tandem won three titles.
One-man show unworthy of recognition? Bryant’s rebuttal is his MVP trophy.
Not good enough to win sans O’Neal? Bryant went to three straight NBA Finals without Shaq and won two.
Bryant has done all of these things in a Lakers uniform. His most impressive accomplishment is not statistical but rather Los Angeles based: Bryant made purists wonder whether he is superior in talent to Magic Johnson.
Johnson might be the most beloved Laker ever, and he appears in every all-time top-five player rankings. Even in his own. The fact that Bryant is in the same conversation as Johnson speaks to how great he’s been during his career.
As a result, it would seem practically ludicrous for the Lakers front office to pontificate on a big basketball decision without consulting Bryant.
He has done so much for the franchise that he should probably have a say in the team’s future given that he is tied to it.
Or is he?
Agree to Disagree
Bryant and general manager Mitch Kupchak do not appear to be on the same page.
In March, Kobe offered some thoughts on L.A.’s front office to ESPN LA’s Dave McMenamin:
It's my job to go out there on the court and perform. No excuses for it. Right? You got to get things done. It's the same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court is the same expectations I have for them up there. You got to be able to figure out a way to do both.
The GM then added this tidbit about Bryant: “He’s not the most patient person in the world. That’s never going to change.”
Bryant has no interest in watching Los Angeles take its lumps over the next few years because that’s not what the Black Mamba does. Bryant wants to compete for a sixth title before he hangs them up, and with his contract expiring in 2016, it’s quite possible that he will retire then and there.
A two-year rebuild means that Kobe gets stuck pump faking and firing fadeaway jumpers to close out his illustrious career on a team at the bottom of the standings.
Granted, things could turn just as a quickly.
Kevin Love wants to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves, according to ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, and he seems to have an interest in joining LakerLand. If the Lakers were to get him, and Bryant resembles anything close to an elite 2-guard, Los Angeles will become a decent team and an attractive destination for free agents.
Short of that, a rebuild is a necessary evil for the Purple and Gold, even if Kobe vehemently disagrees.
Per Sham Sports, the Lakers will have cap room this summer (roughly $30 million) and the following one ($40 million), but using it is tricky. History suggests that huge free-agency splashes should only be entertained when the truly best become available.
The Lakers were successful going this route with Shaq in the 1996 offseason. He joined the Lakers, and talent soon followed. The same applies to LeBron and the Miami Heat, who are trying to win a third straight title.
Sign the biggest and brightest stars as free agents and ignore the rest. This explains why the Lakers have their eyes set on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant, whose contract expires after the 2015-16 campaign.
The reason smart franchises only go after stud free agents is simple: Borderline All-Stars or superstars get teams in trouble via free agency.
Ask the Detroit Pistons how the collective signings of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings are working out. The duo earned a little over $21 million this season. New head coach Stan Van Gundy might help them become a functional tandem, which would make the Pistons better, but their brief history together has led to 29 wins.
One might offer Dwight Howard’s signing with the Houston Rockets as a counterargument, but that’s not quite apropos. Howard is arguably the best center in basketball, and his performance in the first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers proved he was worth every penny despite the early exit.
The better example is Al Jefferson. The Charlotte Bobcats gave him a three-year contract worth $13.5 million per season. His deal was actually reasonable because his salary is right around market value for an above-average big man with low-post skills. Have a look at a few back-to-the-basket players and their salaries:
In addition, the Bobcats play in a conference where 38 wins (they finished the year with 43) gets you into the postseason, and that was Charlotte’s goal. Jefferson helped the Bobcats get to their desired destination.
In the case of the Lakers, they are looking to contend for championships, not playoff berths. Thus, they can’t afford to make a mistake by signing a player on the cusp of the elite to a big contract, only to watch him never make the leap as Bryant gets ready perhaps to retire.
Kupchak shared as much with ESPN LA’s Shelburne in April, while addressing his concerns as well as Kobe’s:
We want the same thing. We both want to win as much and as soon as possible. But it takes an organization a long time to get in the position that we're in where we have options financially going forward for the next year or two or three and we just have to make wise decisions using that space. If you don't make a wise decision, then you can set yourself back 6-7 years, and we don't want to do that.
All of these factors explain the rationale behind management’s line of thinking. The Lakers want to sign the “right guys” and get back to the top. As a result, the franchise will want a patient coach, who can teach young players the game in the face of mounting losses.
In Bryant’s case, he wants to get back to the top right now. Thus, he will likely want a coach with cachet who won't tolerate mistakes. Someone who can lead and make the Lakers a contender regardless of the amount of talent on the roster
We Love You, Kobe, But…
The Lakers will more than likely listen if Bryant offers an opinion in the quest for a coach, but that probably won’t move the needle in the front office’s decision-making process.
L.A. and Kobe’s short-term goals do not intersect, which creates complications.
The Lakers will likely want their new coach to align his goals with those of management, and it will surely want to be competitive all the while developing young players, especially if the Lakers keep the No. 7 draft pick in this year’s draft.
It would be challenging to bring in an accomplished headman to oversee a rebuilding project.
On the flipside, Bryant will want no part in a youth movement, and he will be looking to win at all costs. That’s how he is wired, and it’s difficult to think otherwise.
Remember, after losing in five games to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 Western Conference semifinals, Kobe sat at the podium and defiantly said his Lakers weren’t going anywhere and that they would be back playing for titles.
Two seasons have passed since that proclamation, and the Lakers have gotten progressively worse in each campaign. Naturally, Bryant wants out of this losing vortex that has engulfed the Lakers, but the truth is that he might have to remain in it presumably until he retires, unless the Lakers bring talent to the equation in 2014-15 or the following season.
Ultimately, Kobe’s opinion cannot matter on this topic. His impressive credentials should normally warrant that the franchise solicits his take, but Bryant is too close to the situation and cannot move back and see the big picture. If he did, he’d realize that he’s not completely part of it based on the path the Lakers are seemingly taking.
Thanks, Kobe, but no thanks.