EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Immediately after the Los Angeles Lakers declared Kobe Bryant out for the season, he already was thinking about how to make sure the Lakers will be much less miserable when he returns.
Bryant expressed only mild frustration Wednesday after the long-expected decision to end his 18th NBA season after just six games. The superstar guard’s broken bone in his left knee has kept him out since shortly before Christmas, and it still hasn’t healed enough for weight-bearing exercise.
With just five weeks left in their injury-ravaged season, the Lakers (22-42) elected to preserve Bryant for next year, when he’ll be 36. And though Bryant has barely played, he is determined to make sure the Lakers’ failures of this season aren’t repeated in 2014-15. The Lakers’ ruthlessly competitive scorer can’t take much more of this incompetence from his 16-time NBA champion franchise.
“I feel like killing everybody every time I go to the arena,” Bryant said. “I’m just on edge all the time. Yeah, I still feel it, probably more than anybody in the organization does. I probably feel it more, and it drives me absolutely crazy.”
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Bryant clearly identified the Lakers’ top offseason priorities in his mind, and they didn’t include specific free-agent additions. The fourth-leading scorer in NBA history called on the Lakers’ front office — and owner Jim Buss in particular — to set “a clear direction” for the franchise’s return to the top after they miss the playoffs this spring for just the second time in his career.
“You’ve got to start with Jim,” Bryant said. “You’ve got to start with Jim and Jeanie (Buss), and how that relationship plays out. It starts there, and having clear direction and clear authority. And then it goes down to the coaching staff, and what’s Mike (D’Antoni) going to do, what they want to do with Mike, and then it goes from there. It’s got to start at the top.”
Phil Jackson’s apparent decision to take a front-office job with the New York Knicks also drew a negative reaction from Bryant. The Lakers flirted with rehiring the 11-time NBA champion coach early last season before unexpectedly choosing D’Antoni, whose two injury-plagued teams have gone 62-74.
“You know how I feel about Phil,” Bryant said. “I have so much admiration for him, and respect, and have a great relationship with him. Personally, it would be hard for me to understand that happening twice. It would be tough. I don’t really get it.”
Bryant said nothing about his relationship with D’Antoni, and the coach said he hadn’t spoken to Bryant about the decision to shut him down. But Bryant said he won’t be satisfied with another rebuilding year for the Lakers, even though his two-year, $48 million contract extension starting next season will absorb a large chunk of the team’s upcoming salary-cap space.
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