It’s not even June, and the Los Angeles Lakers are already making a mess out of their summer.
This week, the team hired Mike Brown to coach the team. It was a somewhat controversial hire but not an altogether terrible one. The messy part wasn’t the result; it was the process and the aftermath.
During the search process, Lakers owner Jerry Buss specifically said that no Lakers players would be consulted regarding the search. He was quoted on Playboy Radio on XM/Sirius:
“We really don’t consult the players on these matters,” Buss said. “Obviously, we have to select somebody who has a reputation that players would be happy with. But to ask a direct player to select a particular coach, that’s general manager territory.”
OK, fine, if that your team policy, whatever. It’s a strange policy to have when Kobe Bryant, one of the best and certainly the most headstrong player in the NBA as the face of your franchise, but if that’s your policy, by all means go with it.
Of course, once Brown’s hiring was announced, Bryant offered a “no comment” and was said to be “surprised” by the hire. Was Bryant a bit peeved by this slight? Of course. Anyone in his position would be.
The decision to select Brown as the Lakers next coach has been widely attributed to Jim Buss, Lakers VP and son of the owner. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, Jim Buss does a 180 degree flip less than one week after the hiring was announced, admitting that Bryant should have been consulted during the process.
“Looking back on it, we should have contacted Kobe,” Buss says. “Kobe said it was management’s job to pick a coach. He just said, ‘Defense first.’ That’s what we were doing, but we should have reached out to him.”
Yeah, of course the Lakers should have reached out to Bryant. The only reason not to do so was is if the Lakers firmly and truly believed in their “no players consulted” stance. If they did, there should not be any backtracking. If it’s so important that it’s black and white, there should be no gray area hedging after the fact.
Just put yourself in Bryant’s shoes. You’ve busted your butt for more than a decade. You’ve brought home five rings. You’re entering the final chapter of your career. You’ve earned every last shred of respect a player can earn in the NBA. After all of that, you’re then informed that you will be left out of the process. Once the process is completed, you’re told that you should have been consulted. But the hiring has been completed, of course, and there’s no going back. You’re stuck with the guy that you weren’t asked about, whether you like it or not.
If you’re Bryant, how else do you read this situation except for butt-covering lip service? If Lakers management truly wanted to show respect, they could have reached out. If they truly didn’t care, they have no reason to apologize or back-track. If they don’t know what they are doing or simply can’t keep their story straight … well, then they do what they just did.
By admitting this mistake so quickly and readily, Jim Buss totally undercuts this management team’s credibility and makes a bad situation even more complicated. No one wins here: Bryant feels disrespected, Brown walks into an unnecessarily tense scene without first having Bryant’s support, Lakers management looks like it’s on different pages, and Jim Buss looks either weak, incosistent or indecisive.
Like I said, what a mess.