Kobe Bryant, Brian Shaw and Ronnie Lester have communication issues with Lakers' front office
They have had different roles and histories with the Lakers organization, but there's a common thread that's tied Kobe Bryant, Brian Shaw and Ronnie Lester together.
The commonality goes beyond the 13 combined NBA championships they won with the Lakers. It points recently to their frustration over the front office's apparent lack of communication over important issues. The examples prove to be wide-ranging.
Bryant reportedly has been upset that management apparently didn't consult him and give him a heads-up about the hiring of Mike Brown as coach. Shaw, formerly the top assistant on Phil Jackson's staff, wishes he'd been told directly by the team that he wasn't getting the head coaching job, instead of learning of it through media outlets. And Lester, a former assistant general manager for the Lakers, feels offended that they provided little information on the 20 or so Lakers staffers, including himself, who were let go after their contracts expired June 30 and the NBA imposed a lockout.
The circumstances are different, but these examples involving Bryant, Shaw and Lester reveal that some of their misgivings could've been minimized with a simple phone call and more respect. Below is a more detailed look at all three situations.
Bryant miffed that he wasn't consulted about coaching hire
Even though he publicly endorsed Shaw to be Jackson's successor, Bryant stressed during his exit interview that he'd leave it to the front office to make the decision and that he'd provide feedback only if asked directly. That never happened. Owner Jerry Buss, executive Jim Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak made the decision to hire Brown without talking with Bryant at all.
Granted, Bryant's not in the front office, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the stars define the NBA and that the success of the Brown hire will to a significant extent hinge on how well he gets along with Bryant. Since the hiring, Bryant has refused to comment about it, ranging from texting a no-comment to The Times' Broderick Turner the day of the announcement, to declining to say anything about Brown when promoting his charity foundation to fight homelessness, to canceling a scheduled media appearance before his summer camp.
There are many who think this story is overblown, that it's important only to media insiders. But there definitely has been a calculated decision on Bryant's part to refuse to comment, for reasons that go beyond the fact he's on vacation or that he didn't want to detract from the focus on his foundation. The Times' Mark Heisler talked to people close to both Bryant and Brown who've indicated the new coach won Bryant over, but Bryant has kept his silence to protest being kept out of the loop. Jim Buss backtracked after the fact, telling The Times' T.J. Simers that Bryant could've been consulted. But author Roland Lazenby quotes a longtime team insider saying that not consulting Bryant was intentional, sending a direct message that the Lakers see Andrew Bynum, not Bryant, as the future of the franchise.
Shaw lamented the Lakers' failure to tell him directly he didn't get the head coaching job
Even though many in the organization and the general public believed he would succeed Jackson, Shaw made it clear during the 2010-11 season that he wasn't automatically assuming that would happen. When the Lakers suffered an embarrassing four-game sweep by the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals, it was understandable to believe that would give the organization more reason to go in a new direction. And when he wasn't chosen, Shaw recently told both The Times' Bill Plaschke and ESPN Los Angeles' Andy and Brian Kamenetzky he was more disappointed in the process itself than in not getting the job.
Some of Shaw's unhappiness stemmed from learning about Brown's hiring through media outlets, not receiving a single phone call from the organization or being given any other feedback on what he could do better to land a head coaching job elsewhere. There's a fair debate to be had on whether the Lakers needed to acquire a fresh voice, or whether their effort to rid themselves of almost everything associated with Jackson seems petty. There's also a fair debate to be had on whether Shaw, who accepted an associate head coaching position with the Indiana Pacers, could've offset his lack of head coaching experience with his strong relationships with the likes of Bryant and Derek Fisher. But what isn't debatable is that the team's desire to finalize its coaching staff first (which is how a team spokesman explained it to Plaschke) doesn't justify its failure to notify Shaw immediately.
"For whatever reason, there was a glitch in communication, " Shaw told the Kamenetzky brothers. I've always had a great relationship and open line of communication with Mitch Kupchak so I don't think it came from there. We've always been on good terms and are still on good terms. I understand in his position there's only so much that he can do, even. He has people over his head that he has to follow directions, and do what they say to do. Definitely there's some room for improvement in terms of how people are dealt with or communicated with."
Lester unhappy with team in face of impending layoffs
Facing a possible NBA lockout, the Lakers decided they wouldn't renew contracts for at least 20 employees on the player-personnel side. That included Lester, who had played for the team from 1984 to 1986, was hired as a scout in '87 and served as an assistant general manager for 10 seasons.
Lester acknowledged to ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne that he could've avoided his fate had he taken the Lakers' offer of a three-year deal at a 30% pay cut instead of signing a one-year contract at the same pay. But he argued he and other colleagues who have been let go deserved much more respect when informed their contracts weren't going to be renewed.
"It's awful funny that the Lakers, one of the highest-grossing teams in the league, could do this to their employees, just throw them out in the cold," he said. "The Lakers have not done a good job in communicating that to anybody whose contract has ended. Obviously the Lakers don't want these guys back, don't want the scouts back, or they would've said something in that regard. So I don't think anybody is coming back. They've not treated people well in that regard."
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Photo: Photo: Kobe Bryant is congratulated by fans in New Orleans after eliminating the Hornets in Game 6 of the NBA playoffs on April 28, 2011. The Lakers advanced to play Dallas but were swept by the eventual-champion Mavericks. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Former Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw, shown during a 2010 exhibition game in which he took over head coaching duties because Phil Jackson was ill, discusses strategy with point guard Derek Fisher during the Oct. 23, 2010 exhibition against the Golden State Warriors. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press / October 23, 2010
Photo: Lakers assistant general manager Ronnie Lester, left, and GM Mitch Kupchak study their options before the 2008 NBA draft. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times.