Time has changed the Lakers in a variety of ways. They are different, and they are swiftly approaching a new era in which the franchise face remains shrouded in mystery.
But they're not there yet.
As long as Bryant is on the Lakers, only so much can change. No amount of time will warp their motives.
Appeasing Bryant, playing for Bryant, is top priority. Doubts to the contrary are wrong and misguided and have since been subverted by their latest addition—that of the Black Mamba-approved Scott.
Hiring Scott wasn't only about Bryant.
Pickings were slim. Scott was one of, if not the absolute best option available.
And yet the pool of eligible coaches was only so shallow because the Lakers waited and waited. And waited. Mike D'Antoni resigned at the end of April, and Scott wasn't introduced until nearly three months later.
Although there was a growing sense the job would be his, things could have turned out differently if all other vacancies hadn't been filled and there were countless options at Los Angeles' disposal. It's not like the Lakers didn't consider other candidates, after all:
One coach who received more consideration from the Lakers than previously reported was, @CoachKarl22— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 25, 2014
Then again, the Lakers were always destined to hire Scott. They prolonged their search with such confidence, such deliberateness as they pursued superstars like Carmelo Anthony, another Bryant-endorsed asset the Lakers openly pined after.
The outcome felt inevitable, because it was. Once Bryant publicly ratified Scott's intangible nomination, it was over:
Kobe on Byron Scott: "He was my rookie mentor ... We've had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) July 9, 2014
Asked if he wants Byron Scott to be the Lakers coach Kobe says "yep"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) July 9, 2014
Bryant wasn't chirping about any other options. Nor did he speak so highly of Mike Brown or D'Antoni before or during their Lakers tenures. Not since Bryant's infamous diatribe on the importance of Phil Jackson's organizational mystique has he waxed so poetically about a coach, incumbent or potential.
"We've had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years," Scott said weeks before he was officially offered the Lakers' head coaching position, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan. "I've always been a fan of his."
Is it mere coincidence the Lakers selected a coach whom Bryant supports and shares a special off-court connection with? Or that they hired someone who will accommodate Bryant's unique offensive skill set?
No, not at all, as Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding cedes:
The Lakers already have been very clear about their desire to empower Bryant and help him finish his career with a flourish. Not only did Bryant get that rich contract extension, but Scott will acquiesce to Bryant on offense far more than D'Antoni did. And the new roster assembled around Bryant might not challenge for a championship, but it will definitely defer to him, too.
Scott isn't in Los Angeles tasked solely with pandering to Bryant. His modestly paced offensive system is a good fit for an unathletic Lakers core—Steve Nash, Carlos Boozer, etc.—that isn't capable of sustaining the torrid, top-two pace D'Antoni implemented last season.
His arrival is, to an extent, bigger than Bryant.
There's a certain dose of irony here. While Scott won't just cajole Bryant, he'll cater to a roster assembled for him.
Contract lengths and how they relate to spending power in summer 2015 are for the Lakers collectively. Preserving cap space is the foundation upon which their future will be built.
Their actual personnel is for Bryant.
Bringing in Boozer and Jeremy Lin, and retaining Nick Young and Jordan Hill, won't win the Lakers any championships next season, but they're not tanking either; they are built not to contend, but to pacify Bryant while making him believe.
And he does believe.
"I can sit here and tell you with 100 percent honesty that I'm happy with the effort the organization put forward this summer," he said, per ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne.
Of course he's happy. General manager Mitch Kupchak and Co. have put just as much effort into gratifying Bryant as they did into setting themselves up for life after him.
They didn't sign a superstar, but they aggressively chased one Bryant endows himself to (Melo). They hired a coach he likes.
They signed him to a $48.5 million extension at a time when the smart basketball—not business—decision was to wait or offer him far less.
Everything the Lakers have done over the last year or so has been with Bryant in mind. In an updated autobiographical excerpt that ran in the New York Daily News, the Zen Master even confirmed that Bryant basically cost the Lakers Dwight Howard.
The Lakers were all about Bryant then, they were all about him with that November extension and they're still all about him now.
All Kobe Everything...Still
Pay little attention to anyone and anything suggesting otherwise—especially as it pertains to Scott's arrival.
"Showtime is back, baby," Laker legend Magic Johnson said at Scott's introductory press conference, via ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin.
Scott isn't some Showtime-schlepping vessel. His four-year deal doesn't imply he'll be asked to re-install samples of Showtime basketball. Scott's offenses don't run. They've ranked in the top 10 of possessions used per 48 minutes just twice.
These Lakers aren't built to run, either. They're, again, built for Bryant, from top to bottom, like Hardwood Paroxysm's Kris Fenrich opines:
But maybe Magic’s ideas are based more in a familial idea of 'Laker basketball.' After all, since Phil left and Dr. Buss passed, the Lakers have been a ship steered blindly by Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni with Kobe lurking in the shadows as a sneering, limping mutineer. His presence by itself is of such a magnitude that it mandates the front office take him into account with any of its decisions. ...
Instead of thrusting Kobe into a quest for #6, the outcome was severely and bumblingly un-Lakerish. Now we see a nod to Kobe’s refusal to rebuild in the quasi-competitive roster Kupchak has delivered which is littered with rental players, rejects, and oddballs.
Claiming Boozer, trading for Lin, signing Young and hiring Scott aren't attempts by the Lakers to delay rebuilding or sell fans and pundits on contention. At a time like this, with the franchise—by its own standards—in shambles, all they have to sell is past prestige, historical notoriety and a propensity for escaping the doldrums quickly and consistently.
All they have to sell, for now, is a symbol of better days.
That symbol is Bryant. And while there are those—like yours truly—who thought the future might take precedence over their past, it's Bryant's past success that can be used to create future optimism. So the Lakers will continue bending to him, building around him and supplying him with enough talent and clout to keep him believing and, therefore, themselves relevant.
"This organization is all about championships," Scott said, per McMenamin. "Period."
In due time, maybe. Right now, not so much.
In lieu of championships, the Lakers are, right down to Scott's hire, about the next best thing—the competitively cutthroat, terrifyingly truculent player who has won them five.
*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.