Whether you agree with the decision to pay L.A. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant close to $50 million or think the team totally overpaid is irrelevant. The investment was made and, right or wrong, he's their leader for the next two years and should have a say in who the team hires to be its next head coach.
As of today, the front-runner appears to be Byron Scott, although stranger things have happened in Lakers Nation. Just think back to 2012 and how the team passed over Phil Jackson in favor of Mike D'Antoni and the seven-second offense.
The veteran Scott mentored Bryant in 1996-97 when Kobe was a rookie, and the two have built a close friendship over the past 18 years.
While Scott is a clear front-runner, sources said talks have not escalated to the point where the sides are discussing contractual terms. Scott, a former longtime Laker who played with Kobe Bryant during Bryant's rookie season, has spoken with Bryant several times throughout the Lakers' coaching search.
From his perspective, Scott feels he is the perfect candidate for the job. Interviewed by Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley on ESPN 710:
Obviously, if I get the job, the first conversation I have is with Kobe. We have to talk about the future of the Los Angles Lakers. We have to also talk about the type of direction we’re going to be taking and also talk about the type of game that he’s going to be playing, because he’s going to have to change his game a little bit, and I think he knows that. I’m an old-school type guy. And I want him to understand that, and I think he does understand that.
As a coach, Scott has had success. He led the New Jersey Nets to two straight NBA Finals (2002, 2003), before losing to the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers, respectively. He was, however, fired one year after their second straight trip to the Finals for allegedly losing the support of his players.
Other names often mentioned as possibles successors to the departed D'Antoni are Alvin Gentry, Kurt Rambis and Mike Dunleavy.
Scott, Rambis, and Gentry all bring something different to the table for L.A. and would probably be a good fit for Bryant, who will be 36 when the season starts. Bryant thus far has said only that he would like to be consulted on the hire but not who he favors.
During an appearance on The Jimmy Kimmel Show last month, Bryant acknowledged the Lakers did not consult with him (via Nina Mandell of USA Today) when they hired Mike Brown or Mike D'Antoni: "On the last two they didn’t. On the third one, I’m hoping they do."
At this point, nothing is set in stone. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak does not seem in a hurry to make that decision.
It will be a longer process for obvious reasons. Our last hire really took less than a week in Mike D'Antoni. This process will be considerably longer for a bunch of different reasons. No. 1, we have more time. No. 2, we don't really know what our team looks like, and there is no urgency right now, so it will be a more deliberate process.
It's no secret Bryant longed for the return of Jackson back in 2012, and most thought the Zen Master was going to replace the fired Brown. Instead, the team brought in D'Antoni to run a Showtime offense with a half-court roster consisting of aging superstars (Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol) and one back-to-the-basket center (Dwight Howard). The results were dismal.
When word got out in March that Jackson was seriously considering moving to New York to run the Knicks, Bryant was genuinely upset and perplexed at the thought of it.
Bryant told Sam Amick of USA Today: "It (Jackson not being hired by the Lakers) would be hard for me to understand that happening twice. It would be tough. I don't really get it."
So, other than the $48.5 million he is owed over the next two seasons, just how relevant is Kobe Bryant to the future of the Los Angeles Lakers? And will he truly have a say in who will coach the team next season?
Kupchak has effectively said Bryant is still the leader of the Lakers and is expected to continue at a high level for the next two seasons. But he stopped short of saying the Mamba would have a direct vote in just who the new coach will be.
Speaking to ESPN's Andy Katz (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA) at the NBA draft combine in Chicago, Kupchak said: "From time to time we ask his advice. He really won't weigh in on something like this. I'm not even sure that we'll talk to him prior to interviews."
Kupchak also acknowledged the importance of having the right coaching fit for Bryant's last two seasons (via Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles):
We have a player on our team who is proven in this league offensively that he can score. That certainly is a consideration; obviously I'm talking about Kobe. He's under contract for two more years, and we think he's a very integral part of this team and we have to make sure whoever we hire as the coach really gets the most productivity out of him, whether it's scoring the ball or play-making or the threat that he may score. That's probably of primary importance right now.
So, who does Bryant want to be his next coach? He's not saying, at least not publicly.
Bryant tried to make the D'Antoni hire work, but as the Lakers flirted with missing the playoffs in 2013, took it upon himself to play coach and direct his teammates to switch into a half-court game. It got them into the postseason, but D'Antoni's overuse of Bryant may have been a factor in Kobe's season-ending, career-threatening Achilles injury.
Which coaching candidate would Kobe Bryant be most happy with?
As for possible new coaches, Alvin Gentry looks like an intriguing possibility.
He has the utmost respect for Bryant's game, having coached against him in the 2010 playoffs with the Phoenix Suns (via Bob Young of the The Arizona Republic): "He's the best closer in the history of the game if you ask me. Yeah, that is including Michael Jordan."
Dunleavy and Rambis would seem like long shots to land the Lakers job. Both have previously coached the team and neither achieved great success. It would seem Bryant might prefer a new, fresh approach that would probably eliminate both as candidates.
Conversely, Gentry or Scott look like a better fit for Bryant, though all of this is speculation, as neither Kobe nor the Lakers brass have shown their cards.
And now the latest rumor (via Sam Amick of USA Today) has the Lakers waiting to see what Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James do in free agency before making their coaching hire:
The slow pace of the Lakers' coaching search that began April 30 when Mike D'Antoni resigned has been timed deliberately with the upcoming free agency period in the NBA, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Specifically, the idea that the Lakers could beat the odds and land the likes of the Heat's LeBron James, the New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony or any of the other superstars who may be free agents on July 1 has led the Lakers to plod through their process so as to not limit their potential options.
It seems far-fetched, but Lakers management has no reason to hurry.
It does matter who Kobe Bryant—a.k.a. the $48.5 million man—wants for a new coach. It matters even more what players management surrounds him with this year and next.