EL SEGUNDO — When it came time for Kobe Bryant to tell general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive Jim Buss on his preference for the Lakers’ head coach, well it’s an answer you may not expect to hear.
“I told them Mike D’Antoni was my first choice,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ morning shootaround Tuesday here at the team’s practice facility.
Lakers fans may cry blasphemy. They may scratch their heads why Bryant campaigned so hard for Phil Jackson in a news conference following the Lakers’ win Friday over Golden State, the same day the team fired Mike Brown following a 1-4 record. But Bryant insists there’s a reason behind his logic.
“I didn’t know Phil was going to be an option,” Bryant said. “Jimmy was the one that brought up Phil’s name. I didn’t know that was a consideration. They said, ‘It is and I want to know how you feel about it.’ That was it. They knew my two guys that I liked. If one didn’t work out with Phil, they knew they had my approval with the other one.”
Bryant insists he doesn’t remember exactly when this conversation took place. If it didn’t happen immediately after Brown’s firing, it could require a leap of faith that Bryant didn’t know Jackson was being initially considered. You know, since Lakers fans chanted “We want Phil,” Kupchak openly talked about reaching out to them and the Lakers publicly acknowledged meeting with Jackson on Saturday.
Nonetheless, Bryant admitted feeling a little down that Jackson didn’t make his third return to the Lakers. After all, Bryant won all of his five NBA championships fall under Jackson’s leadership.
“Obviously there will always be a little bit,” Bryant said. “Phil and I have gone back since I was 20 years old and everything he taught me. There’s a little bit of that. But at the same time, I’m happy for Coach D.”
That’s why Bryant harped little on the nature in which the Lakers chose D’Antoni over Jackson. He said he had
a handshake agreement that he would meet again with the Lakers front office on Monday.
“It’s kind of a waste of time for me at this point,” Bryant said. “What good is that going to do?”
Instead, Bryant raved about D’Antoni, who’s had NBA head coaching stints with the Denver Nuggets (1998-99), Portland Trail Blazers (2000-01), Phoenix Suns (2003-08) and New York Knicks (2008-12).
Bryant called D’Antoni as an “offensive genius” when he was one of Team USA’s assistants in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Bryant recalled idolizing D’Antoni when he played for Italy’s Olimpia Milano (1978-90), calling him “the greatest guard to ever play there.” Bryant also shared how he talked trash to him for coaching Phoenix when the Suns beat the Lakers in the 2006 and 2007 playoffs when they had subpar talent.
“I lit Mike up at the USA team. I told him he jumped ship as soon as we got Pau [Gasol] and Andrew [Bynum emerged]. He said the hell with us, I’m getting out of here before you guys kick our ass. Then I caught him in New York and got 62. That was my revenge game.”
More importantly, though, Bryant tackled misnomers about D’Antoni’s system.
Bryant believes D’Antoni will adjust his famed “seven seconds or less” offense to fit the Lakers’ veteran personnel.
“He’s an offensive genius,” Bryant said. “Does that mean he’ll take the one system he has and implement that there? No, it means he’s an offensive genius. There’s so many more options to play with.”
Bryant scoffed at the general public blasting D’Antoni’s system for emphasizing very little on defense.
“That’s just because he hasn’t won any championships,” Bryant said.” When Phil was here, to be honest with you, we had done maybe three defensive drills the entire time. I’m not understating it at all. His philosophy was you guys need to figure it out on your own. That’s what made him a phenomenal coach. He was able to sit back, trust the process and get people to communicate with each other. That’s when a team is at its best. As a rest, we had great defensive teams. We have to hold each other accountable.”
And most importantly, Bryant took a not so subtle dig at Mike Brown’s Princeton-based offense as evident the team’s learning curve will be minimal.
“It’s pretty quick,” Bryant said. “It’s not something you have to remember a sequence of options or anything like that. It’s about spacing and reading. It shouldn’t be too hard.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter.