NEW ORLEANS — Kobe Bryant was voted in by the fans as an All-Star this season, an honor he received for the seventeenth time in his Hall of Fame career.
He’s been sidelined with a knee injury since Dec. 20, however, so not only was he replaced in the lineup for the midseason exhibition, but he was excused from the usually exhaustive media availability obligations the players are subjected to over the course of the weekend’s festivities.
Since Bryant is one of the game’s biggest stars, you knew the league wouldn’t allow him to escape those duties entirely. He met with reporters a little more than an hour before the All-Star game tipped off on Sunday, and with this season completely lost in Los Angeles, questions focused on the Lakers and how they may go about returning to title contention by rebuilding the roster this summer.
With just five players at most under contract for next season besides Bryant, the Lakers will have the cap space to completely overhaul the roster. While getting back to the level of being seriously considered a part of the championship discussion is the priority, Bryant himself somewhat surprisingly said he wants no part of the decision-making process.
“In all honesty, I don’t want it,” Bryant said, when asked if he expected to have more input in front office decisions this summer. “That’s what they do. I’m not a general manager. I don’t know about scouting players and doing things of that nature, so I’ll let them do their job. They have obviously done a phenomenal job at it for years, so I’m not going to jump in the way. All I ask is if something is going to go down, just let me know about it beforehand so I don’t hear about it on a ticker or something. But that’s about it.”
It was pointed out that the last time the Lakers had a down season like this one (amassing only 34 wins during the 2004-05 season), it took them just three years to return to the Finals. Bryant believes the same thing is possible this time around.
“What we have coming up this offseason with the cap space and what we have ahead of ourselves seems to be right in the Lakers wheelhouse in terms of turning things around pretty quickly,” Bryant said. “We have had summers like this, they have never really faltered. They’ve normally made really sound and excellent decisions that put us right back in contention. So I think this offseason is right in their wheelhouse.”
The Lakers are one of the league’s most storied franchises, and that along with the large market Los Angeles has to offer would theoretically make them a prime destination for any star-level free agent. Bryant’s intensity level and competitive fire isn’t for everyone, however, as we saw with Dwight Howard last season.
He’s well aware of his reputation, but doesn’t feel it should hinder his team’s pursuit of top shelf talent to play alongside him.
“I’m a difficult person to deal with,” Bryant said. “For people who don’t have the same kind of competitiveness or commitment to winning, then I become an absolute pain in the neck. Because I’m going to drag you into the gym every single day. If you need to be drug in, that’s what I’m going to do.
“But for players that have that level of commitment, it’s very, very, easy,” he said. “And we can wind up enhancing the entire group and elevating them to that type of level. But if we don’t have that commitment, man, I’ll absolutely be very, very tough to get along with. No question about it.”