Kobe Bryant should've been consulted about Mike Brown hire
In a move the success of which will partly depend on the strength of that relationship, the two are already off on a bad foot.
And in a move that's surprising and frankly disappointing, having a conversation with the team's star player may have avoided a potential problem that lies ahead.
Granted, Bryant isn't in the front office and it's not his responsibility or right to select the head coach. That job description points to Lakers owner Jerry Buss, executive Jim Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak. That doesn't mean Bryant shouldn't have been part of the research process. Lakers' management clearly felt otherwise.
"We really don’t consult the players on these matters," Jerry Buss said Tuesday on Playboy Radio with sports commentator Michael Eaves and former Lakers scout Bonnie-Jill Laflin. "Obviously we have to select somebody who has a reputation that the players would be happy with. But to ask a direct player to select a particular coach, that’s general manager territory. That’s really out of the player domain."
But is it really out of the players' domain for at least the team's superstar to be consulted simply out of respect for the research process? That doesn't mean the Lakers have to listen to Bryant, who would've recommended Brian Shaw, Rick Adelman or Jeff Van Gundy. After all, the Lakers never budged when Bryant demanded to be traded or for the Lakers to "ship his .... out" regarding a possible trade involving Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd back in 2007. They could've reacted toward Bryant's suggestions the same way. Instead, leaving him in the dark only leaves the Lakers open to potential problems they easily could've avoided.
The Lakers will experience an inevitable transition period during the post-Phil Jackson era. The championship window appears to be closing in on this aging roster. Even if it's clear Jim Buss holds Bynum in higher regard for future, this is not how Bryant should be treated during presumably the last three years of his playing career.
Kupchak told Sports Illustrated's Dan Patrick that Bryant wasn't consulted in the coaching search and wasn’t notified in advance because the Lakers didn’t know the hiring process would be finished or go public so soon. But the coaching search, as reported by The Times' Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner, started May 17, giving the Lakers eight days before agreeing to hire Brown to contact Bryant. That certainly deviates from the front office's attitude last year when Kupchak frequently consulted with Bryant, who in turn had frequent phone and text message exchanges with Derek Fisher, Matt Barnes, Shannon Brown, Steve Blake and Jackson during the free agency process.
"His approach was kind of like, 'This is what I’m hearing,'" Kupchak said last summer of Bryant regarding his role with helping the Lakers secure Barnes. "He never said, 'What are you going to do, this is what I want you to do.' It was, 'This is what I’m hearing.'"
Why exactly wouldn't that be valuable during the coaching search? The importance of doing that goes back to Jerry Buss' comment that they should be aware of finding a coach the players would be happy playing for, but the immediate reaction doesn't suggest Brown really meets that criterion. Bryant's refusal to comment on the issue when contacted by The Times' Turner spoke volumes, especially considering Turner's reporting indicated people close to Bryant characterized him as being "confused" about the hire. Lakers guard Derek Fisher tweeted he's "excited to start a new chapter under Mike Brown," but not before making it clear he considered Brian Shaw "at the top of the list." And Lakers forward Ron Artest, who earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2003-2004 under Brown as a Pacers assistant coach, played coy with fans when they asked him about the hire. He simply wrote, "I'm busy tweeting so I can't answer ur tweets."
That hardly provides any ringing endorsement for Brown. There's nothing personal against him. All accounts say he's a great guy, but what does that really mean in this business? His coaching credentials include a 272-138 record, 2009 NBA Coach of the Year, an NBA Finals appearance and two Eastern Conference Finals appearances, but he wouldn't have been fired in Cleveland if that's the only standard.
Brown may have said all the right things at halftime of the Thunder-Mavericks game on ESPN. He thanked the Buss family. He paid homage to Jackson. He touted Bryant as a Hall of Famer. Brown spent more time talking about Bryant on the air, however, than he actually did with him over the phone.
"Kobe and I have exchanged texts tonight," Brown said on ESPN. "I imagine we will get on the phone at one point or another. He was busy with his family at one point and so was I so we weren't able to hook up by phone."
Not even for a single minute? That's all Brown and Bryant would need to exchange simple gestures. . Text messages cover that, but it doesn't take a genius to know a phone call goes further.
Once training camp starts, this might not even be an issue. The Lakers will say all the right things, with Bryant and company touting Brown as a defensive-minded coach and a fresh voice. The true test measuring the validity of Brown's presence will happen the moment the Lakers go through adversity. Should this monumental gamble backfire, it'll be easy to trace back a few steps to where it could've all been avoided. One of those steps would've involved contacting Bryant beforehand.
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant checks the scoreboard on the way to a 93-81 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on May 4 at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Lakers Coach Mike Brown hasn't spoken with Kobe Bryant by phone yet. Credit: Associated Press