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NBA PM: Bryant, Buss Talk Frustrating Lakers Season

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Bryant, Buss Talk Frustrating Lakers Season

This has been one of the worst seasons ever for the Los Angeles Lakers.

L.A. is currently 22-44, which is tied for the fewest wins in the Western Conference, and they were the first NBA team to be officially eliminated from the playoff race last Friday. Fringe players like Kendall Marshall and Ryan Kelly have been thrust into starting roles for the Lakers despite the fact that they’d ride the bench on most teams, and the team has struggled to compete on most nights.

The last year has been frustrating, to say the least, for fans in Los Angeles who aren’t accustomed to sitting at the bottom of the standings and dealing with these kinds of struggles. Last season’s supposed super team severely underperformed, Dwight Howard left as an unrestricted free agent, Steve Nash’s health continues to be an issue and Kobe Bryant sustained back-to-back serious injuries.

Then, as if the Lakers faithful didn’t already have enough to be upset about, they had to watch Phil Jackson become the New York Knicks’ team president on Tuesday. This comes one year after Los Angeles decided to hire Mike D’Antoni as their head coach over the interested Jackson – a move that was questioned immediately and looks even worse today since D’Antoni’s days in L.A. seem to be numbered.

Earlier today, Bryant appeared on the Dan Patrick Show and discussed the team’s current state and future. Patrick said that he didn’t understand why the Lakers didn’t hire Jackson last season and Bryant, who is always blunt, said that he didn’t get the decision either.

“Listen, that makes two of us,” Bryant said on the Dan Patrick Show. “I didn’t really understand it much either.”

Bryant was quick to add that he still believes the Lakers can turn things around and that he has faith in the team’s front office to right the ship.

“What we can do as players is just trust the organization,” Bryant said. “I’ve had conversations with Jimmy [Buss]. Jimmy is really adamant about the direction that he wants to go with this organization. He feels really confident in that fact that he can be able to turn it around. Him and Jeanie [Buss] seem to be really focused on being on the same page, getting on the same page and pushing this organization to have the same legacy that their father was able to maintain for so many years.

“It’s hard to really see that when you’re in this type of situation where things really seem, the future seems really bleak. It’s tough to have that faith and that trust, but that’s what you have to have. I’ve been with this organization since I was 17 years old and I’ve known Jimmy, I’ve known Jeanie and I know they bleed purple and gold, man. They want to do the right thing for the organization. When you have people who are that passionate about it, just as passionate as you are, it’s really just about communication and moving forward in the same direction. I have no doubt that that will happen.”

On Tuesday, after his introductory press conference with the Knicks, Jackson was asked if he would’ve taken a similar job calling the shots with the Lakers. The 13-time champion said that it wasn’t an option. He made it clear that Jim Buss wanted to put his own fingerprints on the franchise and go in a different direction. Jeanie Buss also chimed in, saying that Jackson was never offered a job with the Lakers.

“I think it was clear that Phil wanted to go back to work,” Buss said in an interview with Time Warner Cable SportsNet. “He had been talking to different organizations, and for me personally, I like having Phil around, but there was no role for him with the Lakers. He’s too good of a basketball mind to just sit at home in a rocking chair playing Solitaire. He decided, and I feel comfortable with that, and he knows my commitment is here with the Lakers. The Lakers are my life. For him, the Knicks will be a job that will have a beginning and hopefully for him, success. Not over the Lakers, but in the Eastern Conference, and it’ll someday come to an end because he’s a hired person. But the Lakers are my life and it’s a family business. This is going to be my family forever.

“He was not offered any official position [with the Lakers]. Fans will recall seeing him when we retired Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey, for example. He came and he was part of that ceremony. There were a lot of Laker functions that Phil was with me because he was there to support me, in no official capacity. There is no role in the front office for him for what he could contribute. Maybe I could have him sell sponsorships or do something like that, work security, but I don’t think that would be something that would give Phil the kind of challenge he is looking for that would fulfill him. … With Phil, I wanted him to know that if there was no role for him with the Lakers, he should be free to pursue other interests. I didn’t know if it’d be an NBA team, I didn’t know if was going to a third-world country to volunteer with helping them set up basketball camps. I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted him to pursue something that would fulfill him. Certainly, the decision was his to make and I support him whatever he wants to do.”

Bryant hasn’t hid his frustration this season. A week ago, when he was officially shut down for the rest of the campaign, he told reporters that he expected the front office to make major changes this offseason to right the ship, adding that he didn’t have the patience for a rebuilding effort.

Today, when asked if D’Antoni should be given another year with the Lakers, Bryant hesitated and then didn’t offer a ringing endorsement for the head coach. While he did say that injuries have contributed to D’Antoni’s struggles in Los Angeles, there have been reports indicating that Bryant has no interest in playing for D’Antoni next year and this quote doesn’t do much to dispel those rumors.

“Um, I don’t know,” Bryant said when asked if D’Antoni should get another year in L.A. “It’s been tough on him. The two years that he’s been here, he’s been dealing with so many injuries left and right. He hasn’t really gotten a fair deal, a fair shake at it since he’s been here.”

Jeanie Buss understands Bryant’s irritation. He’s as competitive individual as you’ll find and his team doesn’t seem poised to compete for a championship over the next two years, which very well could be the last of Bryant’s illustrious career. Buss has been just as upset with this season, but she’s confident the Lakers can get back on track.

“I think it’s been extremely frustrating,” Buss said. “I understand why the fans are frustrated. A lot of injuries that weren’t expected and certainly we were all looking forward to the return of Kobe Bryant from his injury, and he came back successfully, but it was short-lived. I don’t think I can remember a season like this in all the years I’ve worked with the Lakers, and the good thing is that there’s going to be a next season and we’ll have an opportunity to get things back on track.

“He’s such a competitor and I can only imagine what he’s going through right now because he has no outlet for that. I lived with it. I lived with Phil Jackson and I know how competitive he is. If that competitiveness is not fed or does not have an outlet, it can drive you crazy. So I understand his frustration and I will talk to him and I will commiserate with him because I know how he feels.”

The Lakers will have a top pick in this year’s draft, which has been hyped up as one of the best incoming classes in recent memory, which should help the team as they try to restock the cupboard. L.A. has $34,116,243 in guaranteed commitments for next season and $25,000,000 for 2015-16.

Dolan: My Goal Isn’t to Be Loved

It’s no secret that many fans of the New York Knicks blame James Dolan for the team’s issues. Dolan is consistently criticized by fans and media alike, and this week has been no different since he has been in the headlines with the hiring of Phil Jackson as the team’s president. Yesterday, it surfaced that Dolan passed out his CDs during free agent meetings back in the summer of 2010, giving critics more ammo.

However, Dolan took some time to go on ESPN Radio’s “The Michael Kay Show” yesterday and he was asked point blank whether it bothered him that he isn’t liked by fans.

“As far as being liked and disliked, I know what my job is,” Dolan told Kay. “I know what I have to do. I go about doing it, you’re not going to be liked by everybody. If your goal is to be liked by everybody, I don’t think you’re going to do such a good job because you’re going to worry more about that than making the right decisions. I don’t read the papers, and I’m sorry to say I don’t listen to talk radio. Tell me something, tell me the living New York sports owner that everybody loves? I haven’t seen any love fests going on for any sports team owners in New York in the time I’ve been here. They like winning and they don’t like losing, and that’s part of the deal.

“My goal isn’t to be loved, my goal is to win, and I would love for the fans to be happy. I want them to be happy. I want them to come to the Garden and have a great time. With the transformed Garden, it’s a great place to go and see a sporting event and that’s what my job is. It’s not to go out there and try and be loved by everybody.”

Dolan also reiterated that Jackson will make all of the basketball decisions in New York. Kay pressed Dolan about this, asking if Jackson had the power to, say, walk away from re-signing Carmelo Anthony.

“It’s his decision,” Dolan said. “That’s my agreement with him. … The way that I manage is that I try to empower the people underneath me. They bring me a plan for the year, or a longer term plan, and we agree on the goal. They’re the ones with the strategy, I’m the one with the checkbook. Beyond that, I think it’s really all Phil’s call. I think we have shown that we’re willing to write checks in order to try and win. And I am probably a little more dismayed that the checks haven’t produced more winning.”

Dolan was asked if this change would’ve been made regardless of the team’s record. He admitted that the team’s struggles led to the move.

“I don’t know, I’m not sure,” Dolan said. “That’s sort of a ‘what if’ question. If the team was in the middle of a 54-game winning season, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to change much. So, you know if it was that kind of difference I think, it might not have happened.”

Dolan also stressed that he doesn’t see Jackson returning to the sidelines as a head coach for the Knicks, even though he is a Hall of Fame coach and won 11 championships in that role.

“I don’t think that’ll ever happen,” Dolan said of Jackson coaching. “That’s not what we’re looking for Phil to do for us. We’re looking to have him build a consistently winning franchise. I think he knows how to do that. I think he’ll put the personnel in place. I think he’s going to be deeply involved in the basketball decisions, the style of play, the makeup of the team, all the things that you would want him to be involved in, and hopefully that it will be a culture that’s built at the Knicks, fostered by Steve Mills too, whose a big part of the equation, and that’s really the job. I mean, if Phil would ever coach, who would say no? But at the moment, that’s not in the cards.”

New York is currently 27-40, which puts them in the Eastern Conference’s ninth seed, four and a half games out of the playoff picture.

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About Alex Kennedy

Alex Kennedy

Alex Kennedy is a Senior NBA Editor of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last seven seasons.