EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – For those people advocating wholesale changes in the wake of the Los Angeles Lakers’ early exit from the playoff this season, Kobe Bryant has a message for you.
Forget about it.
The Lakers’ star made that clear Wednesday morning after his exit interview with Lakers’ brass at their practice facility. Sure, there are going to be changes. Phil Jackson is done coaching this team. So a new era will begin one way or another. But Bryant is convinced that the nuts and bolts of a team that spent the past four season winning (two), losing (one) and competing for NBA titles needs to return intact if the Lakers plan on chasing another ring next season.
Bryant said the much-discussed “decline of the Lakers” — as it was phrased by one reporter during the half-hour session Wednesday — is a figment of all of our imaginations.
“This is nonsense,” he said. “I remember [the Lakers] had a pretty good era in the ’80s and they didn’t win three [titles] in a row. They didn’t break that team up.”
Bryant said he’ll leave the particulars of where to tweak the roster to Lakers’ general manager Mitch Kupchak, who was scheduled to speak later today along with Jackson. But he has no doubts this group can get back to its championship form with a little rest and refocusing between now and the start of next season.
“If you’re asking me do I believe we can come back and do it again,” he said, “I absolutely believe that we can come back and do it again.”
While so much of the chatter of the past three days has been about the Lakers’ playoff fall and inability to complete their threepeat quest, Bryant spent more time talking about the Lakers’ uncertain future and what it could bring.
He was clear, though, about what this season looks like to him now. “A wasted year of my life,” he said when asked to describe it.
Like every one of his teammates, he expressed his support for longtime Jackson assistant and former Lakers player Brian Shaw as the Lakers’ next coach. But he stopped short of making a pitch for Shaw and said he will not make a case for Shaw or anyone else until someone asks his opinion.
“We don’t know who’s coming back, we don’t know who the coach is going to be and we don’t know if we’re going to have a season next year,” Bryant said, referring to the potential of a work stoppage this summer, depending on how the labor negotiations between the players’ union and the league progress between now and June 30.
Bryant made it clear that he will come back energized and ready to go for his 16th season. In fact, while others might be staring at the inevitability of the end of a Hall of Fame career and thinking and reflecting on the five championships he’s won, Bryant has done nothing of the sort.
“What I think about is shutting up the mofos that say I’m done,” he said and smiled. “That’s what I think about.”
With all but Lamar Odom coming before him in the exit interview process, Bryant had an opportunity to address many of the things that came up during those sessions. He joined Pau Gasol in dismissing any rumors about some rift between the two of them based on some off-the-court issues involving Bryant’s wife Vanessa and Gasol’s girlfriend Silvia Lopez Castro.
Gasol classified the rumors as “absolutely false” Tuesday afternoon. Lakers co-captain Derek Fisher defended Gasol and Bryant and apologized for not recognizing how much that drama played into all of the foolishness that plagued the Lakers as their season swirled down the drain against the Mavericks.
“I don’t read as much and listen to as much of the news and articles and blogs, so I don’t think I or we as a team fully understood the things that were being said about what people thought was going on with Pau,” Fisher said. “If there’s anything I regret, I regret the fact that I wasn’t able to fully understand it and speak up sooner on his behalf. To say that I think it was ridiculously wrong to assume some of the things that were being assumed, and to place the burden of how successful we were or were not on his shoulders.”
Bryant went a step further, blasting anyone willing to buy into the perceived pseudo-drama.
“It made me laugh,” he said. “People reach for absolutely anything when you struggle. They’ll fall for any crap or BS they possibly can. They’ll even invent things. It’s ridiculous.”
One thing Bryant made sure to address was the comments from Lakers center Andrew Bynum wanting an increased role with this team offensively. Bynum said Tuesday that he is looking to come back as more than just a third or fourth option and the Lakers’ defensive anchor, a role he played to near perfection this season while healthy.
But Bryant made it clear that the food chain for the Lakers won’t be changing anytime soon, at least not on his watch.
“Well, it’s tough to do on this team,” he said of moving Bynum up on the list of offensive priorities. “Ultimately, he’ll have to fall in line. Because I’m gonna shoot the ball. We all know that. Pau is going to get his touches. He’s no. 2. And then [Andrew] will have to fall in line.”