Shortly after Kobe Bryant questioned the Lakers’ front office for their lack of vision, he suddenly finds more clarity. Shortly after calling out the need for Lakers executives Jim Buss and Jeanie Buss to iron out their relationship, Bryant sensed the dynamic will work. Shortly after complaining that management kept him out of the loop, well it now appears Bryant feels more informed.
So what happened?
Nothing, other than Bryant talking with Jim Buss extensively.
“It was important for us to have that conversation because this is their team and it’s been in their family for years,” Bryant told ESPN’s Darren Rovell on Sunday. “We know the track record for that. But I’ve also been a part of the franchise since i was 17 years old. I feel like i bleed purple and gold. We need to figure this thing out and go in the same direction.”
It appeared the Lakers’ direction contradicted Bryant’s vision.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak talked after last month’s trading deadline about spending money conservatively this offseason, mindful that the 2015 free agent classes remains far more star-studded and realistic. LeBron James isn’t expected to leave the Miami Heat even if he opts out of his contract. Even if Carmelo Anthony opts out of his deal with the New York Knicks, the Lakers feel lukewarm on adding another scorer that somewhat mirror’s Bryant’s game. Cleveland’s Luol Deng and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry are viable candidates, but the Lakers would rather spend the money slotted for one max-level player through the next two years elsewhere. In 2015, such candidates could include Minnesota’s Kevin Love and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
But Bryant has two years left on his contract worth $48.5 million, leaving him with both question marks on how he will recover from his fractured left knee and if he will have a strong enough supporting cast to ensure a sixth NBA championships and perhaps beyond.
“This organization will not take a nosedive,” Bryant said. “But I think I need to accelerate it for selfish reasons. I want to win. I want to win next season.”
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told this newspaper last week that he had no issue with Bryant’s front office criticisms and suggested that their philosophical beliefs in rebuilding mirror each other. Kupchak also added he planned to consult with Bryant this offseason, though his feedback will not solely dictate the Lakers’ offseason strategy.
“We want the same thing,” Kupchak said, “which is to win as quickly as possible.”
Whether that happens remains to be seen.
The Lakers (23-46) are destined to miss the playoffs for only the fifth time in franchise history and face too many offseason questions. The Lakers will likely draw a top first-round pick. But the depth surrounding the 2014 draft class does not feature a definitive player who could instantly turn around a franchise. Kupchak has publicly praised coach Mike D’Antoni for handling a injury-depleted roster that features plenty of players that lacked significant roles elsewhere. But the Lakers have not yet decided if they will retain him after this season despite being owed a guaranteed $4 million. The Lakers have 12 of their 15 players this offseason becoming free agents.
“Extremely confident,” Bryant said. “That was one of my concerns (when he re-signed) and they assured me, ‘This is fair for you for everything you’ve done for the franchise and will continue to do while being able to construct a team that is going to contend for a championship here over the next couple of years.’”
Perhaps that is why Bryant poked fun on the current Lakers possibly having the chance to become the worst team in franchise history. They would have to go at least 8-5 to eclipse the 1974-75 team that finished with a franchise-worst 30-52 record.
“If you’re going to fail, I guess you should fail and be the best at it,” Bryant said, laughing. “You have to have a sense of humor in very dark moments. The reality of it is it’s been a brutal year. But there’s nothing we can do about it right now. It’s important not to try to beat ourselves up too much about it right now. It is what it is, We’ve been decimated with injuries. Now is the time to regroup, look ahead and start strategizing as an organization how are we going to turn this around. We might have had the worst season ever for a Laker team. But let’s have the greatest comeback that the league has ever seen.”