HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The relationship between Jim Buss and Kobe Bryant was discussed incessantly in the days after Phil Jackson departed the premises and before Mike Brown was hired to replace him.
But we never had a full grasp of exactly what that relationship was like for either man. Buss didn’t speak on it, and neither did Bryant. That left us to our own devices to imagine what that dynamic was like, a dangerous thing for folks looking in from the outside during such a pivotal time for the Los Angeles Lakers and their fans.
Buss was an easy target for those who didn’t like the choice to replace the legendary Jackson. And Bryant’s seemingly cool reaction to the choice and the fact that he had little input on the process (or the choice) only fueled the grumbling about Buss and his role in shaping the Lakers’ future.
Well, we finally have some extended answers from Buss about all that and more, courtesy of Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com. McMenamin got it all in during this thorough two-part Q&A with Buss, the Lakers’ executive and heir apparent to Hall of Famer Dr. Jerry Buss.
Q: Let’s go on to Kobe. I know he’s compensated very well by your franchise. He’s the highest-paid player in the league. Can you put a numerical value on what he actually means to this team?
“I think that’s impossible. I really do. I couldn’t put a figure on it, for sure. Obviously it goes so far reaching, you know? Just the image. Even Magic Johnson still is participating in the franchise’s wealth. It makes the team that much more valuable. Because Magic Johnson, we don’t pay him. So, to say what Kobe is worth would probably be impossible because he’s a Laker for life and who knows what he’s going to contribute later on, which could be an incredible amount.”
Q: Part of your job requires you to be in the moment of the season but also plan for the future. Have you guys even begun to think about life post-Kobe as a player?
“I don’t like to, but we have to. So, yeah, it goes through our minds but we don’t really [dwell on it]. We can’t anticipate what is going to happen. We can’t talk to him like I said, so I don’t know what he’s thinking. I don’t know if he’s thinking he wants to play a year more or two years more [after his current contract expires] or retire. I don’t know. I have zero idea.”
Q: In an interview with 710 ESPN’s “Mason & Ireland Show,” you did say that you thought he would play longer than two more years …
“That’s me thinking him. I can’t read his mind. What I said is I think he’s playing well enough to not hang them up. I think a caller asked me if Kobe is going to hang them up and I said I just don’t see that. I mean, he could have been the minutes leader this year. I don’t see him slowing down.”
Q: But an extension with Kobe has not been addressed yet?
“It can’t be.”
Q: Magic Johnson came out this year and said that you and Kobe should sit down and have a talk. Did that happen?
“Yes, we had dinner. We talk all the time now. What it is is, be it my fault, I should communicate more with the players in a certain way. I’ve always felt that when it comes to decisions that it changes every 10 minutes when it’s actually going to happen. To inform a player or ask a player’s opinion about this guy or that guy, it would bore them to death and drive them crazy. So, I was under the impression that it was better to wait until the very last moment and then talk to him. But, Kobe is cool about it. He said, ‘Just let me know.’ Keep me in the loop, kind of thing. And I said, ‘OK, I have no problem with that.’”
That’s a different version of their dynamic than we imagined.
But it’s nice to actually have Buss on the record about his relationship with Bryant and so much more. Make sure you check out both parts of the interview for some insight into the mind of the man charged with charting the future course of one of the league’s flagship franchises.