The idea that Kobe Bryant(notes) would’ve ever called LeBron James(notes) for a confidential scouting report on Mike Brown is sheer fantasy. They don’t share much of a relationship, and even less a common interest in fortifying each other with the best possible coach for a championship chase. Why would they trust each other’s referrals? James wants the Los Angeles Lakers to fail, just as Bryant does the Miami Heat.
For Bryant, there was never time to consider Brown’s candidacy as Lakers coach because sources close to him say that he was never asked about the candidates to replace Phil Jackson. The Buss family promised they would proceed this way, without the consultation of the most important person in the franchise.
These are partnerships in the NBA, and Bryant, with five championships, should’ve been part of the process. Bryant didn’t deserve the chance to choose the next coach, nor did he have the inclination. In the end, such an arrangement makes for an impossible dynamic between an indebted coach and a star player.
Still, Bryant happens to be one of the sharpest basketball minds in the NBA, an ability to see the game in its most overt and subtle ways. So why wouldn’t you want Bryant’s input? Why wouldn’t you want to lay out to him the plan and vision of returning Bryant and these Lakers to championship basketball?
Mostly, Lakers vice president Jim Buss had a habit of antagonizing Jackson, and he’ll regret it should that be the basis of his relationship with Bryant now.
The San Antonio Spurs wouldn’t hire a coach without discussing names with Tim Duncan(notes). Steve Nash(notes) gets immense input – probably too much – with the Phoenix Suns. Those two aren’t twentysomething’s at the apex, but they should still be afforded the chance to have names pushed past them. Bryant? The Lakers can still win titles with him. He’s no ceremonial franchise player. All they had to do was say, "Hey, what’s our feeling on Rick Adelman? Mike Brown? We’re balancing these strengths and weaknesses. What do you think?"
Jim Buss is running the Lakers now, and this is a frightening proposition for everyone. Bryant doesn’t have a strong sense of Brown, sources with knowledge of his thinking said. He hasn’t offered a blessing or a condemnation. Brown was an Eastern Conference coach. He’s something else too: Jim Buss’ way of pushing far from Phil Jackson, passing over longtime assistant Brian Shaw, and staking claim to his own guy. He’s the insecure and largely incapable son of an iconic owner, the older brother of Jeannie Buss, the far more competent sibling to run the franchise.
Yet, Jerry Buss is turning these Lakers over to Jim, and that’s the reason sources say he conducted the search with his father and general manager Mitch Kupchak assisting him. Now, Jim Buss has two guys in the franchise: Brown and Andrew Bynum(notes). In fact, Buss has made something clear within the Lakers, sources say: Bynum is untouchable in trade talks.
For now, this could include a sign-and-deal for the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard(notes). The Lakers are Howard’s preference, but they don’t have salary cap space to sign him. They’ll need a deal that includes Bynum to the Magic, but there are those seriously doubting Jim Buss’ desire to make such a trade. After all, Bynum was Jim Buss’ discovery, his pet project and believes Bynum will ultimately resonate as the son’s personal Lakers legacy.
Buss’ loyalty will be Bynum and Brown. These are his guys now. Still, Brown will find a willing ally in Bryant with his desire to re-galvanize the Lakers' defense. So much of Brown’s success will come with his assistant coaching staff, and a source says the Lakers have yet to formulate a budget for assistants. Brown has never been reluctant to delegate as a head coach, but will the Lakers pay the money to lure ex-Cavaliers assistant Michael Malone out of New Orleans and renowned Tim Grgurich out of Dallas?
No matter who comes with Brown, one thing's for sure: And it won’t be easy. Following Jackson with an aging core almost assures failure, but so few jobs in the NBA are ever happily ever after. Brown owes LeBron James a great deal for his career, but it was no accident that the coach omitted James’ name out of his farewell statement upon getting fired in Cleveland. He had an immature James for most of his time. Against his better judgment, Brown watched James and his childhood buddies run roughshod over everything with no repercussions, and ultimately, no respect for Cavs authority.
Brown gets Bryant on the back end of his career, 32 years old and desperate for a system, a style, that allows these Lakers to reshape themselves as championship contenders. He was on the air Wednesday speaking awkwardly about exchanging text messages with Bryant. No phone call, though. That’s on the Lakers and how they handled the hiring. Bryant is the most important person in the franchise, the best basketball mind, and he should’ve had his voice heard.
The Lakers could’ve made this so much easier for Brown, but Jim Buss had to make it clear that these are his Lakers now. His guys, Brown and Bynum, are the untouchables now. That’s great and all, but Bryant is still the most powerful voice, most powerful presence in the Los Angeles Lakers. No, Kobe never should’ve selected the next Lakers coach, but he should’ve connected with him long before a text message on Wednesday night. Whatever Jim Buss thinks, these Lakers will be about the partnership of Mike Brown and Kobe Bryant.
No, Kobe Bryant never would’ve had an interest in talking to LeBron James about Mike Brown. He wants to beat him, not be James’ buddy like so many players in the NBA. And that alone ought to provide some kind of kinship with Brown. The new coach and franchise star have so much in common, and yes, they’ll talk soon. They should’ve talked far sooner. That’s on Jim Buss, and that’s a shame.
In the end, this couldn’t be Jim Buss’ coach, but Kobe’s too. That’s the only way that this will work, that they’ll ever get a shot together at LeBron in the NBA Finals. This is a partnership, and the most important part of it all is still Employee No. 24.