Kobe Bryant once gushed over Mike D’Antoni, labeling him as an “offensive genius” after idolizing his professional career in Italy and playing for him with two U.S. Olympic teams. Bryant even proclaimed D’Antoni as “his first choice” to coach the Lakers following Mike Brown’s firing before realizing Phil Jackson became an option.
Two seasons later, Bryant expressed indifference over D’Antoni’s recent resignation amid two injury riddled seasons, one first-round sweep to San Antonio in 2012 and cementing an L.A. franchise worst 27-55 record in 2013.
“Honestly, I didn’t care,” Bryant said Thursday on “Jimmy Kimmel Live. “Mike was dealt a really bad hand in dealing with all the injuries that he had here,” Bryant said. “This is a tough place, man. If you’re not winning, you’re not going to survive, man.”
Bryant’s sympathy for D’Antoni only went so far after scoffing at his fast-paced system. Magic Johnson sparked universal criticism for nearly tweeting in celebration following D’Antoni’s departure. But Bryant found amusement in it, comparing the incident to a moment in “The Wizard of Oz.”
“The first thing I thought of was seeing the Munchkins on the Yellow Brick Road dancing and singing, ‘The Wicked Witch is dead,’ ” Bryant said. “When he tweeted that, that song just came to mind.”
Bryant had plenty of things on his mind on Thursday, touching on topics surrounding the Lakers, his health, embattled Clippers owner Donald Sterling, Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, Nick Young’s first pitch at Dodgers Stadium and his daughter’s competitiveness. But first things first.
Will the Lakers consult Bryant on their latest coaching search?
“On the last two they didn’t,” Bryant said, referring to the Lakers choosing both Brown and D’Antoni without seeking the Lakers’ star’s input. “On the third one, I’m hoping they do.”
Bryant said he texts and communicates frequently with the Lakers’ front office that includes general manager Mitch Kupchak, vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss and president Jeanie Buss. But Bryant resisted suggesting what he wants in his next head coach, other than finding someone who will help the Lakers win him his sixth NBA championship.
“Jimmy and Jeanie both, they’re just really determined and excited about the possibilities of next season and rebuilding this and building on their father’s legacy and everything that he’s accomplished,” Bryant said. “And they’re taking the challenge extremely, extremely seriously. They’re both on the same page and they want nothing but excellence here, so I have no doubt that we’ll make it happen.”
Bryant hardly had those sentiments two months ago.
He publicly challenged Jim and Jeanie to improve their relationship. Bryant said he did not have “one lick” of patience surrounding the possibility the Lakers would spend conservatively this offseason in hopes to improve their long-term rebuilding prospects. On his appearance on Thursday, Bryant also likened the Lakers season toward “eating paint chips.”
Meanwhile, D’Antoni encountered a divided Lakers’ locker room on his philosophies.
Bryant and Gasol disliked D’Antoni’s fast-paced system both out of concern for their aging bodies and stemming from their experience winning two NBA championships together under Phil Jackson’s triangle system.
D’Antoni had a number of supporters, including Nash and a various assemblage of role players, partly because they enjoyed heightened roles under him.
“Honestly, it’s not really about whether the players like the coach or not,” Bryant said. “It’s really about getting results. Liking somebody and those results don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Sometimes when a coach is driving you, you don’t necessarily like it, but it’s a part of the process, and then once you win, everybody is buddy-buddy after that.”
So can the Lakers feel that championship nostalgia only one season after suffering the worst record in L.A. franchise history?
“I do,” Bryant said. “We’ll make changes, for sure. There’s certain characteristics that you have to build your team around in speed and length and rebounding and defense. We’ll make those adjustments.”
One of those includes Bryant, who only appeared in six games because of major injuries to his left Achilles tendon and left knee. But after spending the past 2 1/2 weeks working out, Bryant described his health as “100 percent.”
“I started doing a lot of on-court training and so I’m back into my routine,” Bryant said. “Then I’ll start lifting and start doing the running, which I hate. By the time the season comes around, I’ll be ready to go.”
And, Bryant hopes, that will entail going through a certain crosstown rival before winning the title.
“I would love nothing more than the Lakers to get back to that championship level,” Bryant said, “and meet the Clippers in the playoffs.”
So how does he feel about the Clippers making a playoff push this season?
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” Bryant said. “I’m not winning. What the hell do I care on who wins.”
Bryant offered sympathy to the Clippers, however, for the racially disparaging remarks embattled owner Donald Sterling made on an audio tape. He said he reached out to Clippers guard Chris Paul, among others, to offer encouragement. Earlier, Bryant had tweeted that Sterling should no longer remain the team’s owner, something NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly stripped.
And to think, Bryant nearly played for Sterling when he talked to the Clippers as a free agent in 2004.
“At the time, the biggest concern was he willing to spend to have a successful team,” Bryant said of Sterling. “He said during the meeting that he was willing to make a commitment to bring a championship team to Los Angeles. He has done that and spent the money to to out and keep Blake [Griffin], DeAndre [Jordan] and CP and all of those guys.”
Instead, Bryant stayed with the Lakers where he eventually reunited with Jackson, reached five NBA championships and improved their relationship. So much that Bryant said he speaks with Jackson “often” and believes “he’ll do fantastic” as the New York Knicks’ president after winning 11 NBA championships as a coach. Meanwhile, Bryant provided dazzling performances, including a career-high 81 points in 2006 against the Toronto Raptors.
Apparently, that did not impress Michael Jordan, Bryant’s longtime idol and predecessor that sparked endless comparisons.
“After I scored 81, he was barking on how I could never do it against him,” Bryant said, before breaking into a Jordan impression. “‘There’s no way you’re going to score 80 on me! I would have fouled out!’ We just went back and forth with it. I normally try to stay pretty cool when it comes to MJ because I look up to him so much, but on that particular occasion I had to remind him that I did have 42 in one half against him.”