Kobe Bryant, wishing it were still like this (Getty Images)
He's an odd bird, that Phil Jackson. Just about every championship team he touches turns into a nervous, insecure puddle following his departure. The Chicago Bulls retained most of his coaching staff after he left in 1998, but the owner and GM wanted nothing to do with him following his last year with the team. This new version of the Los Angeles Lakers, plodding along at fifth in the West, seems to have taken it a step further. And, according to CBS Sports' Ken Berger, this is the reason Lakers star Kobe Bryant is so ticked off at his team's front office.
Somehow, with one working wrist and zero working knees, Bryant is having a year for the ages. And yet, his team's entire scouting staff looks different than it did a year ago. Same with the clubhouse helpers and the training staff. That isn't to say there are different faces. Bryant wishes. That is to say the Los Angeles Lakers, the most profitable franchise in the NBA by a Malibu mile, eliminated scads of personnel needlessly during the lockout mainly because the team owner's son (we won't offend you by pretending to cite his official title) decided that Phil Jackson's smugness and influence (and 13 rings as a player and coach) was too much to sustain after he split last summer. Here's Ken:
The list goes on. Longtime associates of former coach Phil Jackson were let go as the Lakers tried to "wash off anything that had touched" the decorated coach, a person with ties to the front office said. Brian Shaw, Bryant's preference to succeed Jackson, was interviewed for the job but came away with the clear impression that any efforts to associate himself with Jackson would "hurt him, not help him," a coaching industry source said.
None of these people, who formed what a longtime NBA executive called one of the best front office staffs in the league, was given the courtesy of knowing whether they would be brought back after the lockout ended. Some are still waiting for that phone call.
Joey Buss, another son of the owner who runs the team's D-League franchise, has moved into Jackson's old office. Jesse Buss, 23, who was arrested for alcohol intoxication in Lexington, Ky., on a "scouting" trip in December, has moved into [former assistant GM Ronnie] Lester's former office.
Read the whole mess after you're done with our take, if you haven't already. It confirms what has been brewing for years, since the summer when Jim Buss (smartly) used his influence with his father to suggest the team draft Andrew Bynum directly out of high school. That summer also saw the return of Jackson after a one-year hiatus and a damning book that painted Bryant as a destroyer of worlds. That summer also probably saw a son have to take a back seat that he didn't expect, as Jackson and his staff re-emerged to take over a Lakers team that Jim Buss likely saw as his moving forward.
As a result, 6 1/2 years later, you've got lost jobs. Jobs expertly worked by people who not only deserved to sustain those gigs, but a proper send-off considering the abilities, and their actual lives as humans with working phones and/or feelings.
If Berger's column is 40 percent true -- and it's Ken Berger, so you can trust that it's about 2 1/2 times that rate -- then it's rife with tales that would only be believable in both Los Angeles, and concerning a wayward son who was born into quite a bit of money.
There's the team's scouting department, which is down to Jerry West's son (good), an injured member of the Buss clan (get well soon, buddy), and a former bartender named "Chaz." That's the scouting department of a team with a $3 billion TV deal.
There's the news that coach Mike Brown wasn't kept in the loop when Lamar Odom, his hopeful game changer that the Lakers so desperately need right now, was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for a trade exception that the team apparently has no interest in using.
(A trade exception! We're 2 1/2 months removed from that deal. Can you tell me with a straight face that Odom, playing with buddies like Kobe and Ron Artest, wouldn't have gotten over his near-trade to New Orleans while working out of sunny Los Angeles? And who better to talk a front office out of a deal than an optimistic coach like Brown that sees only cheery days ahead? Or, more specifically, the guy working with him each day in practice?)
There's the reiteration that the Orlando Magic, silly though this may be to some, will not be trading Dwight Howard this year. And the only piece they'd possibly want in return for Howard is Andrew Bynum, a player that Jim Buss wants nothing to do with moving. Then there's the part that points out that other GMs know that Buss is really running things, that Mitch Kupchak is being wrung out in public, and that any team that wants to deal with the Lakers will eventually have to deal with a son of an owner who has no clue how any of this works.
Good luck with all those hopes for a trade, Laker fans.
The Lakers, as a franchise, are under no obligation to keep Kobe Bryant informed of each of their plans and all the trade possibilities. Not because he hung the team out to dry in the summer of 2004 (forcing the badly needed trade of Shaquille O'Neal, but flirting with the Los Angeles Clippers and meeting with the Chicago Bulls as a free agent following the Shaq trade), but because it's too risky.
Kobe knows the game better than most. Someday, like Jerry West, he might make a fantastic GM. But if he's in on secrets that nobody else on the active roster knows, the bias (the well-intended bias, I should point out) on Kobe's end is too risky. Imagine having to run an offense while knowing the guy you're passing to might have to impress a team half a continent away in order to secure you a new small forward and point guard and holy lord it's too crazy even for Kobe's brain to comprehend much less mine which is why I forgot where the comma key is.
He's still the player, and they're the front office. He might be the finest Laker the game has ever seen, but there sadly has to be a disconnect.
Bryant's more than correct in calling out this ridiculous front office, though. It clearly isn't as simple as "trade him, or tell him that he won't be traded." Even the most harmonious of front offices won't submit to that sort of demand, and they'd be smart not to. But Kobe's more than right to wonder why Marc Gasol's Memphis Grizzlies have the billion-earning Lakers lapped in terms of backstage personnel; especially when the impetus behind the clearing of the house came from insecurity and tempestuousness.
And cheapness. Despite the money rolling in. Despite a confluence of lucky events (Charlotte willing to take Vlade Divac for Kobe, Memphis willing to part with Pau, Jerry West finding that Divac guy in the second round …) that the current administration had no part in.
Los Angeles is ruining its last great chance. They boast three players that, at their best, should be starting for the Western All-Stars later this month. And if the current front office thinks it can sustain a winner once Bryant leaves, working off its own merits?
Then they've had it. Delusion typical of the town they're working out of.
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