Here is a more depressing picture for Lakers fans than seeing Kobe Bryant sitting on the sidelines this season while watching his undermanned team experienced yet another double-digit defeat.
The Lakers field so many questions pertaining to Mike D’Antoni’s head-coaching future, how they use their first-round pick and if Bryant can fully recover from two significant left Achilles tendon and left knee injuries that sidelined him last season for all but six games. Amid all that uncertainty entails something that could prove hard for Bryant to stomach. The Lakers’ rebuilding effort may not happen fast enough for Bryant to win his sixth NBA championship before his contract expires following the 2015-16 season.
Below is part two of my transcript with NBA TV analyst Rick Fox, the former three-time NBA champion with the Lakers who touched on that issue, the Lakers’ rebuilding era earlier this decade and why it might be hard to convince players to take a significant paycut to join the Lakers as he willingly did (You can read part one here).
What biggest question mark do you have about the Lakers’ rebuilding effort this offseason?
Kobe only competes for championships. That’s all he’s ever known. The biggest question mark is can they put together a roster heading into next season that is truly capable of competing for a championship. Knowing that Kobe is already impatient, my biggest question mark is I don’t know how patient Kobe can be or will be with the plan to get back to true Laker form. How do they balance the two. How do they balance the two? How do they balance rebuilding the Lakers at the pace that they seem to be patiently waiting for and executing the last three years versus putting Kobe in his last remaining years in a position to chase number six. One is going to be sacrificed.
With Kobe’s frustration and the Lakers season that they had, does this remind you of the aftermath surrounding the Lakers breaking up their team following the 2004 Finals loss to Detroit?
I was one of the captains and, unfortunately, I was privy to the pulse of the team at that time with conversations with Phil [Jackson] and Shaq. Once again I was putting my GM hat on and looking at the landscape with what was being said. Kobe was becoming a free agent. Shaq was frustrated with his deal. Phil did not get renewed. I saw it unraveling back at the All-Star break. I knew it was inevitable and knew it was going to come to a head. My memories are really knowing on that flight home from Detroit that it’s pretty much over. Then Phil Jackson told me in the exit meetings in the parking lot at the car that he wasn’t sure what he would do and that he was probably going to let us know in the next couple of days. He said I should think about coaching. He thought I would be a good coach. When I think about that time and remember those last few days, the thing that stuck with me most is the greatest coach of all time is telling me I should be coaching. I have yet to do that. It’s haunted me. I would never say never. It would take the right situation and I’m open to challenges and new opportunities. If something presented itself, I definitely would think long and hard about it. Life is one of those journeys where show up unexpected.”
Did you know it was over for you too?
I pretty much medically retired and I blew out the tendon in my foot and couldn’t do it physically anymore. I knew mentally for me to load up and actually saddle up next to Kobe with Phil gone, Shaq gone and Robert gone and Derek gone, I just knew we’d be taking a lot of bullets in the league after beating everybody down for a number of years. I just thought it would be a nightmare. I knew the next year wouldn’t be fun. Unfortunately I had to retire from injuries. Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with the frustration of the season. I didn’t forsee as a quick turnaround, but they turned it around. Phil came back pretty quickly and rebuilt that. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for that. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for those years where it was a dismal reason. It was always reported he only saddles up for rich laden rosters. But he came back and rebuilt that Lakers situation with management there and he turned it around.
There are a few more obstacles to overcome when forming a new nucleus. But everyone is always going to be willing to pick up the phone and talk to the Lakers. Players and agents will always entertain how they can make it to L.A. L.A. will always be L.A., attaching that brand to your own basketball brand along with the opportunities off the court in Los Angeles is always going to supersede 26 or 27 other teams in the league that might have the bright lights, big city New York appeal. But they’ve struggled to attract people because of their inability to win.
San Antonio, the franchise itself is attracted to winning, but not everybody wants to be a cowboy. With the Clippers, maybe with the way they are winning and Doc Rivers is a part of it, it becomes as attractive because you still gain the city of L.A., the lifestyle, the weather and what has become a respectable franchise now for competing. But it’s still L.A. You ask 400 players where they’d like to play city wise, and I guarantee you 350 of them would say Los Angeles. If you ask them who they can play with, they still want to play with the legends of the game that have come toward them and eventually would have the faith to sayt hey would find their way again.
So when you signed with the Lakers (in 1997), you left a lot of money on the table. What was the thought process?
Fox: First of all, I wouldn’t advise anybody to leave $20 million on the table. I’m a different breed. That wasn’t the sanest thing. But for me, it made all the sense in the world. It was me playing general manager and looking at the landscape of the league, looking at the history of the Lakers and looking at the roster of the Lakers and realizing if I supplanted myself in the midst of that franchise and group of players and that history, similar to when I went to North Carolina and played for Dean Smith and surround myself and be a part of that roster there that if I could play there, good things would happen. When good things happen and you win, the victor goes the spoils. In my case, I didn’t recoup the money I left on the table for three years. But I ended up signing a six-year deal for a lot of money, $24 million. I made a great living. But more importantly, I wont three championships that stay with me to this day and the rest of my life. I have great lifelong memories of playing under Phil Jackson, Shaq and Kobe and all the great teammates that I had with Robert Horry, Derek Fisher and Brian Shaw. Each guy goes down in history as my closest warrior friends.
With the situation the Lakers are in now, how realistic is it for them to find players of your caliber who would be willing to make such a sacrifice?
Fox: When you’re talking about attracting an individual that’s six or seven years in the league and established themselves as a mainstay and has carried the responsibilities of carrying big minutes on a team that didn’t go very far and still could be a good piece to a big team, any of those current players would look at the current roster of the Lakers and they’re not going to see a Shaq. They’ll see Kobe, but they will see an older Kobe. I don’t know if they’ll see a Pau Gasol because he is unsigned. They will see a lot of cap room and look at a coach with players on that roster that have questioned him and haven’t gotten along well with.
They really have to put a lot of faith in what the Lakers stand for and what they did and a lot of faith in the front office being able to turn this around and a lot of faith that the greatest players have always wanted to play in L.A. They’ve always someway have found their way there. They would have to take a leap of faith to make that move and that the organization ends up appreciating. They’ve always been extremely loyal to the players that have sacrificed for their franchise. They would have to be part of the recruiting team that recruits the next wave of superstars because they would be ahead of the curve. That would be unlike my decision, which was a difficult one. But that wasn’t as a really difficult one because there was Shaq and Kobe, and I could see it and it was the Lakers. I had to be a little patient and make less money upfront and know that we’re going to win. I knew if we won, I’d be a part of it and I’d be compensated.
Is the Lakers’ current rebuilding effort comparable to what they went through earlier this decade?
There are a few more obstacles to overcome when forming the new nucleus and the new labor deal. But everyone is always going to be willing to pick up the phone and talk to the Lakers. Players and agents will always entertain how they can make it to L.A. L.A. will always be L.A., attaching that brand to your own basketball brand along with the opportunities off the court in Los Angeles is always going to supersede 26 or 27 other teams in the league.
There’s always the bright lights, big city New York appeal, but they’ve struggled to attract people because of their inability to win. San Antonio, the franchise itself is attracted to winning, but not everybody wants to be a cowboy. With the Clippers, maybe with the way they are winning and Doc Rivers is a part of it, it becomes as attractive because you still gain the city of L.A., the lifestyle, the weather and what has become a respectable franchise now for competing. But it’s still L.A. You ask 400 players where they’d like to play city wise, and I guarantee you 350 of them would say Los Angeles. If you ask them who they can play with, they still want to play with the legends of the game that have come toward them and eventually would have the faith to say they would find their way again.