Lakers Insider: Kobe Bryant's Role Central to Coaching Search, New Game Plan

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterMay 21, 2014

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Welcome back, Kobe.

Kobe Bryant realized the last years of his career weren't going to be maximized in Mike D'Antoni's system, and the Los Angeles Lakers now agree.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak suggested Wednesday that the NBA will see Bryant's full attack mode when he returns to the court at age 36 next season under a new head coach.

"He's under contract for two more years, and we think he's a very integral part of this team," Kupchak said. "We have to make sure that whoever we hire as a coach can really get the most productivity out of him, whether it's scoring the ball or playmaking or the threat that he may score."

In other words, it's Kobe's team again in a familiar sense, whether it consults him on the coaching hire or not.

After D'Antoni's quick-shooting system propelled the Lakers to 11th in scoring this season, the Lakers are likely to employ a more deliberate mode of offense, leaning on Bryant drawing double-teams on the wing or establishing position at his beloved mid-post spot.

"Kobe knows where on the court he'll be most effective," Kupchak said.

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Bryant, according to Kupchak, "looks good" so far in the early stages of on-court workouts since the fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee took so long to heal that his prognosis went from six weeks to 17 weeks and the rest of the season.

It's a near certainty that after an offseason of ramping up, Bryant will enter training camp in October better equipped to sustain the season-long level of the excellence to which he is accustomed. What remains to be proven is whether Bryant can avoid further injuries that sideline him when the Lakers will need him more than ever, assuming they follow through on plans to put off long-term free-agent investing until 2015.

The Lakers' approach will be to some extent about meeting Bryant halfway, especially when the team doesn't have much to look forward to next season except Bryant's triumphant return that didn't stick in 2013-14.

Byron Scott's close relationship with Kobe Bryant may make him an easy choice to be the Lakers' new coach.
Byron Scott's close relationship with Kobe Bryant may make him an easy choice to be the Lakers' new coach.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

It makes sense that Bryant will be featured under the new coach, who is more likely to be a veteran who reveres Bryant, such as Byron Scott or Mike Dunleavy, or a newbie who knows him well, such as Quin Snyder or Derek Fisher.

If the Lakers brass, limited by a lack of assets post-Dwight Howard, isn't going to come up with any bold moves or big buys to realistically position Bryant to win his sixth NBA championship next season, a sound thought process is to develop talent behind him but let him do his thing and make their fans smile.

"You'll see a lot of him posting up," Kupchak said. "I think you'll see him with the ball in his hands, making plays. At the end of games, he's going to have the ball in hands, he's going to get a call, he's going to make free throws."

If the Lakers aren't going to win the title again right away, at least it'd be nice to enjoy the Kobe show while it's still playing.

"We have a player on our team right now who is proven in this league offensively," Kupchak said.

No Quick End in Sight to Coaching Search

The Lakers coaching search has begun, but unlike the quick turnaround in November 2012 when a limping D'Antoni was rushed in during the season, there will be no stone left unturned.

"I would not anticipate hiring a coach in the next two or three weeks," Kupchak said. "We'll interview several—more than three or four, probably."

The Lakers clearly hired D'Antoni to suit Steve Nash and (in theory) activate Howard. But aside from making sure Bryant can be productive, Kupchak noted, "We don't really know what our team looks like."

Kupchak said the Lakers' search hasn't been affected by other clubs' hirings and firings to date, he doesn't "anticipate" trying to lure another team's existing head coach, and he is prioritizing experience but "not necessarily."

Picking Up the Pieces of Lottery Dreams Lost

Indiana's Noah Vonleh is likely to be under consideration by the Lakers when they draft seventh overall in June.
Indiana's Noah Vonleh is likely to be under consideration by the Lakers when they draft seventh overall in June.Eric Francis/Getty Images

Despite hopes of vaulting into the top three in the NBA draft lottery, the Lakers dropped to the No. 7 overall pick Tuesday night.

"It could've been worse," Kupchak said.

The Lakers GM is realistic about expectations for a rookie who likely will be coming off a freshman (Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh?) or sophomore season (Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart?) being a "good" player who needs a lot of seasoning.

"We're hoping three or four years from now, we can look back on it and he's an even better player than we thought," Kupchak said.

The dream scenario in this selection range for Kupchak would be a player akin to Portland Trail Blazers All-Star point guard and 2012 No. 6 overall pick Damian Lillard—although Kupchak neglected to mention that Lillard played four years of college at Weber State.

Kevin Ding covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.


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