Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson rip Lakers management
Kobe Bryant couldn’t help himself. Neither could Magic Johnson. They both demanded action from the Lakers’ front office at nearly identical times Wednesday.
As Bryant told reporters he had no patience to wait for the Lakers to retool, Johnson said on Twitter the team made a big mistake in not pursuing Phil Jackson to join the front office.
Bryant was smoldering as he spoke an hour after the team announced he would not play the rest of this season because of a fractured knee.
With the free-agent crop looking less enticing than expected this summer, Bryant said he had no patience to wait until July 2015, when All-Star forwards Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge could become free agents.
“No. No. Nope. Not one lick,” he said.
Then Bryant became sarcastic when talking about next season.
“Oh, yeah, let’s just play next year and let’s just suck again. No. Absolutely not,” he said. “It’s my job to go out there on the court and perform, no excuses for it. Right? You’ve got to get things done.
“Same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court, it’s the same expectations I have for them up there.”
He’s obviously not pleased with the Lakers’ upper management.
“How can I be satisfied with it? We’re like 100 games under .500. I can’t be satisfied with that at all,” Bryant said. “This is not what we stand for, this is not what we play for.”
Bryant’s window is small. He’ll be 36 in August and has two seasons left on his contract for $48.5 million.
He said the Lakers needed to play with championships in mind “or everything else is a complete failure.
“That’s how it was explained to me by Jerry [West] and all the other great Lakers that have played here. That’s just how it is,” he said.
Bryant said he wanted team executives Jim and Jeanie Buss to patch up a gulf that widened in November 2012, when the Lakers hired Coach Mike D’Antoni instead of Phil Jackson. Jim Buss, General Manager Mitch Kupchak and now-deceased team owner Jerry Buss said at the time they were equally behind D’Antoni’s hiring.
Jackson is Jeanie Buss’ fiance.
Bryant was in disbelief that the Lakers would let Jackson join the New York Knicks’ front office.
“You know how I feel about Phil. I have so much admiration for him and respect and have a great relationship with him,” he said. “Personally, it would be hard for me to understand that happening twice. It would be tough. I don’t really get it.”
The “twice” refers to Jackson losing out to D’Antoni after Mike Brown was fired five games into the 2012-13 season.
Bryant wasn’t quite done.
“I think we have to start at the top in terms of the culture of our team,” he said. “What type of culture do you want to have? What type of system do you want to have? How do you want to play? It starts there.
“You’ve got to start with Jim. You’ve got to start with Jim and Jeanie and how that relationship plays out. It starts there and having a clear direction and clear authority.
“Then it goes down to the coaching staff. What’s Mike going to do? What do you want to do with Mike? It goes from there. It’s got to start from the top.”
D’Antoni has one more guaranteed year on his contract. The Lakers are 22-42 and skimming the depths of the Western Conference.
Bryant didn’t provide specifics about personnel changes he wanted.
“I can’t really comment too much on that. I just want to get a phone call when somebody gets traded. Let’s start there,” he said.
Bryant was still upset about the Lakers’ trading Steve Blake last month to Golden State, a salary dump that saved them about $4 million in player payroll and luxury taxes.
Bryant considered Blake to be a tough competitor and close friend.
Johnson, an unpaid vice president of the Lakers, weighed in on Twitter at the same time as Bryant downloaded on reporters. It didn’t appear to be planned, but Johnson was equally miffed at the Lakers despite saying earlier this year he would no longer criticize them.
“I love Jim & Jeanie Buss, but we need Phil Jackson to be the face of our great organization, the Los Angeles Lakers,” Johnson wrote in a series of tweets. “Kobe Bryant is the face of the Lakers’ team. Who is the face of the Lakers’ organization? In signing Phil Jackson, [Knicks] Owner Jim Dolan & [team executive] Steve Mills are saying to the Knicks fans, they’re ready to win now!”
Bryant remains defiant about his eventual return to a high level of play.
“I don’t want to say I’ll be back at the top of my game, because everybody’s going to think I’m crazy and it’s the old-player-not-letting-go sort of thing, but … that’s what it’s going to be,” he said.
A few minutes after concluding his 10-minute interview with reporters, Bryant tweeted a link to a mildly pessimistic ESPN article titled “Kobe finally proving to be human.” Bryant added “#thankyou,” an apparent reference to criticism he would use as motivation.
Bryant said he took Lakers losses personally while he was out. Bryant has played only six games this season because of two injuries, the first a torn left Achilles’ tendon he suffered in April that kept him sidelined until December. He then suffered a fractured knee in the same leg in a game Dec. 17 and he has been sidelined since.
“I feel like killing everybody every time I go to the arena. I’m just on edge every time,” he said. “I feel it probably more than anybody in the organization does. It drives me absolutely crazy.”
Bryant will begin treadmill work next week, he said, not enough time to get in shape before the Lakers’ season ends April 16 in San Antonio.
“You’re looking at a week left in the season or whatever the case may be,” he said. “It just didn’t really seem worth it.”
Bryant did allow one moment of humor Wednesday.
It had to do with his feeling after the Lakers lost by 48 points last week to the Clippers, their worst loss in team history.
Said Bryant: “Now I know what I feels like to be a Clipper fan all those years.”
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