ESPN The Magazine Puts Out Hit Piece On Kobe Bryant, Says He's 'Destroying' The Lakers From Within
Damn. ESPN The Magazine blammed its blammers in an article released today about Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, placing most of the blame for the franchise's awkward and unfamiliar position near the bottom of the Western Conference on the 16-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion. Jim Buss also catches some flak, mostly for not amnestying Kobe when he had the chance.
The thrust of the article is not an unfamiliar one: Kobe is a difficult guy to play with, talk to, coach, control. But according to author Henry Abbott, Kobe is responsible for scaring away potential free agent acquisitions and turning off Lakers role players (and superstars) from re-upping with the team.
It started with Ramon Sessions:
In the spring of 2012, after a trade from Cleveland, the pick-and-roll specialist was briefly the toast of LA, widely hailed as the post-Fisher point guard needed to steady the Lakers' ship. Sessions filled the role admirably, for a stretch, before a poor playoff performance. If you haven't heard his name in a while it's because when faced with the option of returning to the Lakers, quite possibly as a starter, he declined.
The deal Sessions signed instead was longer, and therefore came with more job security. But it was to back up Kemba Walker on the Bobcats, who were coming off literally the worst season in league history. Sessions has been somewhat evasive as to why, but he has been quoted as saying it was "definitely different" playing with Bryant. Internally, the Lakers were rattled by his departure and came to believe that Kobe was the key.
It continued with Andrew Bynum:
One Lakers insider remembers a time in 2012 when Bynum -- about a year after declaring that the Lakers had on-court "trust issues" -- was due for a contract extension: "Andrew's question in contract talks was: 'How are you going to rein in Kobe?' We couldn't give direct answers. My immediate thought was, Well, he doesn't want to play with Kobe if we can't answer that question."
Who can forget Dwight Howard?
The Lakers meeting took place in Beverly Hills on July 2 in the modernist, windowless conference room at Relativity Media -- the offices of Howard's agent. Kupchak, Howard's closest ally on the team, prepped the Lakers' pitch. One big point: Listen carefully. Another: Dress appropriately. "Our approach," a Lakers source explained at the time, "is that we are interviewing for the job. We want to show that this is a place his dreams can come true."
As the Lakers' contingent settled into the conference room's ergonomic chairs, it was clear that two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash, in a nice crisp shirt, listening attentively, was running Kupchak's game plan. But Bryant showed up, according to a person in the room, in "hoops shorts, a T-shirt and a gold chain." He had also packed an attitude.
When Howard asked why his teammates let the injured center take all the flak when the Lakers' season went south, Nash said he didn't know that Howard had felt that way and that had he known, he would have acted differently. Bryant, on the other hand, offered a crash course in developing thick skin and a mini lecture on learning how to win. Sources told ESPN Insider Chris Broussard that Bryant's lecture was "a complete turnoff" for Howard.
How about Paul George?
Paul George, Angelino through and through, had once been the team's safest choice. But sources say one reason the two-way star had re-signed with the Pacers in the fall of 2013 instead was that he was turned off by the thought that Bryant would police his efforts.
Even current teammate Steve Nash has been alienated:
Subsuming ego and glorifying teammates is a winning NBA strategy, and it's what D'Antoni and Nash attempted to bring to the Lakers.
After his first year with Bryant, Nash couldn't hide his disappointment when talking to Grantland's Zach Lowe: "I think it'd be nice to find a middle ground where he does his thing but the ball still can move for great parts of the game. ... But I knew it wasn't going to be the same. When you play with Kobe Bryant, the ball is gonna be with him most of the time."
And here's just a few of the vaguely damning quotes that are peppered throughout the article:
Another agent with current Lakers clients was asked whether Bryant undermined the team's rebuilding by alienating would-be free agent recruits. "Well, duh," he replied. "Isn't that obvious?"
"I've had a lot of clients in the last five years, good players, who didn't want to play with Kobe," says an agent who has had numerous NBA stars. "They see that his teammates become the chronic public whipping boys. Anyone who could possibly challenge Kobe for the spotlight ends up becoming a pincushion for the media. Even Shaq."
"It's like the wedding of a child to someone you do not approve of," adds the source about the Lakers' view of Bryant. "If you can't stop it, you simply go through the motions."
So, how legitimate is ESPN's beef? Everyone knows Kobe is a grouchy ball-hog who does things his way -- and his way has resulted in five rings. We can think, off-hand, of 13 franchises that would kill for just a taste of what Kobe has accomplished.
For all these quotes assassinating Kobe's character (and perhaps rightfully so, if he really is that difficult behind the scenes), there's nothing from Chris Paul, who seemed pretty excited to play with Kobe when he was "traded" to the Lakers in 2011. Or from Pau Gasol, who says "it was difficult" to tell Kobe he was leaving for Chicago, due to their friendship. Or Metta World Artest Panda Friend's decision to join, and re-join, L.A. Meanwhile, most of the top-flight free agents mentioned in the article had good reasons not to join the Lakers outside of Kobe -- mainly, money and/or a chance to "go home" like LeBron.
Plus, if a few years of awkward rebuilding is the price the Lakers have to pay, both karmically and to Kobe, for the five rings they've won with him over the past two decades, is that really so bad? Most teams that experience great success eventually have to see how the other half lives. It's not dissimilar to what the Yankees went through with Derek Jeter this past season. He was clearly a liability on defense, but there's no way Derek Jeter plays for another franchise and there's no way he gets benched. It's about respect -- a concept that seems alien in a league that's about business, but something that perennial championship winners can afford.
If Kobe thought ESPN was full of idiots before this came out, he'll have an even bigger chip on his shoulder now. Read the whole article here.
P.S. -- If Dwight Howard left L.A. because Kobe didn't dress up nice for him, the Lakers are probably better off.
Photo via Getty
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