Kobe Bryant remained forever grateful for the Lakers front office granting him a two-year, $48.5 million extension even before fully healing his left Achilles tendon. Even amid a season assured of a missed playoff appearance for the first time in nine years, Bryant expressed optimism last week that the Lakers would quickly reload during the upcoming offseason.
Yet, it’s safe to say that Bryant considers the Lakers getting off to a poor start. In 140 characters, Bryant made it perfectly clear he wasn’t happy with the Lakers trading Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for two seldom-used shooting guards in Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks, a move that saved the Lakers $4 million in salary and luxury taxes.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) February 20, 2014
Bryant often complimented Blake during the nearly four seasons they played together. Bryant praised Blake’s chippiness and team-first mindset. He often called Blake the nickname, ” Vino Blanco” a spin-off of his self-appointed moniker of “Vino” and “Black Mamba.”
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak suggested the move had less to do with the financial relief that he described as “not a really big number.” Instead, Kupchak argued he made the deal so it’d give the team a chance to develop younger talent that could possibly have a long-term future.
“As a person and as a player, we loved him,” Kupchak said of Blake. “But our shortage of point guards about a month or so ago led us to Kendall Marshall. With Kendall and Jordan (Farmar) and of course Steve Nash is back there and Steve Blake, it really got to the point where we needed to free up some time in the backcourt to look at Jordan and give Kendall the time that he’s earned and let’s review and evaluate where we are with those two players.”
Still, that doesn’t erase the obvious sting from Blake’s departure.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has endlessly gushed about Blake’s toughness, energy, playmaking and outside shooting, all qualities he looks for in his players, most notably in the backcourt.
“I hate it for him and I hate it for us because I hate to lose him,” D’Antoni said. “He was the backbone we had this year. We hate to lose that.”
D’Antoni also expressed sympathy for Blake going to his seventh team in 11 NBA seasons. Blake’s wife Kristen and three sons, Nicholas, Jameson and Zachary will reside in their Manhattan Beach residence during the remainder of the season. Still, D’Antoni noted how Blake could fill a viable role as a backup point guard for the Warriors (32-22), who are currently ranked seventh in the Western Conference.
“It’s tough in the sense you develop something, especially with a player like him and someone of his caliber of character to disrupt his life and family’s life is tough,” D’Antoni said. “Now having said that, he’s going to a great spot and playoff team. He has to look at the big picture and not short term.”
As for Bryant, he’s hardly shied away from expressing disapproval of the Lakers’ front office decisions.
He famously demanded a trade in the 2007 offseason and questioned the front office’s competence after the Lakers missed the playoffs in the 2004-05 season followed by two consecutive first-round exits to Phoenix. Bryant also criticized the front office in the 2011-12 season for leaving Pau Gasol’s status uncertain amid never-ending trade discussions.
“I’m sure he’ll tell me the players that he’d like to have, and if it’s in line with what we would like to have, then I think there will be some influence,” Kupchak said. “But if we’re on opposite ends, then there probably won’t be much influence.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org