Oh yeah, let’s just play next year and let’s just suck again. No. Absolutely not. Absolutely not. 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.” – Kobe Bryant
On a day when he was supposed to be announcing that his season was effectively over before it really got the chance to start, both he and Magic Johnson made desperate public pleas for the Lakers to hire Phil Jackson before his becoming the next president of the New York Knicks was made official. Regardless of whether it was coordinated or not, nobody can really say they were surprised. Magic has expressed his concerns about the future of the franchise on numerous occasions and Kobe has never been one to bite his tongue either.
These days, you won’t find many people in Los Angeles who aren’t at least a little bit nervous about their beloved basketball team. For those who were hoping there was a still a chance that something between Phil and the Lakers could be worked out at the eleventh hour, they had the right two people acting on their behalf.
That wasn’t the surprising part. What was most shocking was the tone and the extent to which he called out the front office, as if they didn’t already know the difficult task at hand. If what he wants is to make sure that Jeanie and Jim Buss are on the same page, there are far more effective ways of doing that.
What Kobe failed to mention is that the most glaring obstacle standing in the way of an immediate rebuild is his enormous contract. Every time I bring that up, I always get a ton of responses from Kobe supporters who love to ask me if Kobe was supposed to decline the Lakers generous offer. That is completely irrelevant. The Lakers aren’t complaining about the extension and neither am I. The only one currently complaining about anything right now is Kobe. So my complaint isn’t about Kobe’s extension — my complaint is about Kobe’s complaining.
As much as it stinks that Kobe’s contract will most likely cost them any shot at winning a title in the next two years, I understand why they did it. From a business perspective, Kobe is worth every single penny the Lakers will be paying him for the next two seasons.
Whether or not he’s worth that large a percentage of their salary cap is irrelevant. He is their most prized possession and the threat of losing him was far too big of a business risk than what it will mean in terms of wins, losses, and championships.
But for Kobe to sit there shaking his head and pretending like he didn’t know that there was a chance the team could be bad again next season, after he made zero effort to keep Dwight Howard from leaving, and then taking up two-fifths of next year’s salary cap, is either laughable, delusional, or both.
What happened to the guy who felt the need to defend his contract to all the Lakers fans who attacked him about it on Twitter and Instagram? Back then, he not only defended his contract, but he expressed his confidence in the Buss family, Mitch Kupchak, and the team’s ability to compete in spite of his extension:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) November 27, 2013
What’s changed between then and now? Was it trading away Steve Blake without notifying him first, despite the fact that there are a number of scenarios in which they can bring him back as a free agent this summer? Was it just letting Phil go to New York, despite the fact that Phil was going to be the Knicks president, not their head coach?
Kobe’s comments, much like Magic Johnson’s criticisms earlier in the season, are only making an already insurmountable task even more difficult for the front office. I wouldn’t be so surprised about Kobe’s meddling if we hadn’t seen it once before. Here’s what Kevin Garnett told Dan Patrick in 2011 about what happened in 2007:
“I was pretty close [to going to L.A.] to be honest. What disturbed me about the whole Laker situation was Kobe [Bryant] and Phil [Jackson] at the time. They was pretty bad. That situation was something I didn’t want to get into. It was my choice. There was a lot going on and I didn’t want to be a part of it.”
What Garnett was referring to was Kobe’s trade demand during the 2007 season. He had called up every radio station that would have him to express his unhappiness with the Lakers and how he would rather “play on Pluto” than play for the Lakers again. That radio tour was enough to scare away Garnett, who had hoped to leave one toxic mess in Minnesota, without any risk of walking into another.
Whether or not Minnesota would have ever pulled the trigger on the Lakers reported offer of Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Kwame Brown’s expiring contract is beside the point. Kobe’s media tour made it an impossibility just by calling them out before the season was over and giving the front office the chance to improve the roster first.