Kobe Bryant having problems with Los Angeles Lakers management is not surprising at this point, but it does raise some interesting questions regarding what direction the franchise will go in during this offseason.
Over the weekend, Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times made it known that Bryant and new coach Mike Brown had met on multiple occasions, and contrary to what some believe, do not hate one another. This is good news because it means that Kobe won’t be doing his vintage 2004 tune-out-the-coach-because-I-don’t-like-him shtick in the coming year. Rather, he’ll probably just stick to his 1996-2003 and 2005-2011, tune-out-the-coach-because-I-can shtick.
Brown, according to the same report, won Bryant over in a series of face-to-face meetings that occurred recently. It seems as though that fuddy duddy, uncharismatic routine is something the Lakers coach only busts out during news conferences and public appearances, and that in a one-on-one situation, he’s the most charming actor in LA. The fact that he wins head coaching jobs that he was never a serious candidate for -- prior to interviewing -- is a testament to that, Heisler tells us.
So, Bryant and Brown are on the same page. Good. How about Bryant and the rest of management, though?
Not so much.
Fredo Jim Buss not checking with Kobe before actually hiring the new Lakers head coach is still not sitting too well with the fragile superstar who has brought five championships to L.A. While he didn’t want the power or responsibility of hiring anyone, Kobe -- who knows he’s on his final legs at this point -- simply wanted to have some sort of say in the hiring process, even if it was just for the sake of being heard.
The new Buss in charge not asking his best player’s opinion on the matter, of course, speaks to a larger rift between the two of them. While at one point Kobe and Jerry Buss had an especially tight relationship -- though, unlike Jerry’s relationship with Magic Johnson, this one was more business-oriented -- the connection between Jim and Kobe is almost non-existent.
Jim didn’t reach out to Kobe regarding the hire, nor did the thought of doing so ever cross his mind, largely because he doesn’t care about Kobe in the way that most franchise heads care about their superstars. Kobe is the talent passed down to him, not the one he chose. This is both apparent and accepted among anyone who watches the organization, and it’s not even a secret at this point. For what it’s worth, by the way, the feeling appears to be mutual.
Kobe is too old for wars, though. This isn’t like 2004 when he had all of the talent and pull in the world to do as he pleased. For better or worse, he’s got very little leverage to express his dissatisfaction with the younger Buss, and that is why he’s resorted to playing little “no comment” games regarding Brown’s hiring.
The interesting thing now will be to see what the Lakers do during the offseason. The tumultuous relationship between Kobe and Jim means the latter will be more reluctant than ever to part ways with Andrew Bynum in favor of bringing in a big gun to Los Angeles. Barring another Jerry West magic trick, there is no way the Lakers can get any player of substance via trade that doesn’t involve their big, young center. When you consider the Lakers have no money to spend on new pieces, you get a clear picture of where this team stands: trade Bynum or keep the squad as is.
Can the Lakers will a title as presently constructed? Absolutely. The Mavericks proved this year that you don’t need jump-off-the-page big names to win a championship so much as you need a solid, legitimate team. The parallels between L.A. and Dallas are plentiful, if you want to dig that deep. It’s hardly a big jump envision the Lakers returning to their old form with a summer of rest, some time to mesh last year’s newly acquired pieces into the gameplan, and a newfound devotion to playing tough defense.
Not pulling the trigger on a Bynum-for-Dwight Howard swap may hurt the Lakers, but it won’t kill them. However, Brown being placed in the middle of a power struggle between Kobe and Jim will bring this ship down.
The only way for the Lakers to diffuse the current situation is by having Bryant and Buss sit down and discuss everything that’s transpired. By burying past issues and moving forward on the same page with the same goals in mind, they would make the key first step in returning L.A. to championship glory.
If this doesn’t happen, though, fans of the purple and gold better prepare themselves for the Dark Days of 2004 to make a comeback, with the same inevitable destructive end result.