The Lakers’ failed pursuits of star free agents late in the Jim Buss-Mitch Kupchak regime had become a running joke, and the stakes were getting raised even higher. LeBron James – the greatest player of his generation, maybe of all-time – had interest in the Lakers.
But Jeanie naturally felt apprehensive about firing her brother before actually doing it. As she mulled the decision, Kobe Bryant offered guidance.
Bryant’s advice, via Sam Amick of The Athletic:
“Jeanie, I know who we’re trying to get; we know who we’re trying to get, so that player is not going to come here with all of this shit going on. It’s not going to happen,” Bryant told her. “So if you do want to have that focus, and go after that player, then I’m telling you that you’ve gotta clean house, and you’ve gotta just reshuffle the deck and start anew. You have the new practice facility (the UCLA Health Training Center) that we’re just moving into (in the summer of 2017). We’ve got new management, and off we go. But that player is not coming here unless you do that.
“As a player, it’s like, listen, it’s a cultural thing. You’ve got to have the right culture around, especially for him at this stage of his career,” Bryant explained. “You don’t want to come to a team and deal with a bunch of bullshit, right? You don’t want to come here and be part of an organization where the walls are talking and stuff is getting out left and right and you have this camp and that camp. You don’t want to do that. So I said, ‘You’ve got to start anew.’”
As one himself, Kobe certainly knew what would appeal to a superstar player. Johnson has done exceptionally well so far, not just in building the roster, but uniting the organization. LeBron left the Cavaliers, at least in part, due to disagreement with upper management. It was helpful the Lakers presented an alternative.
We’ll never know what would have happened without Kobe delivering this message to Jeanie. Perhaps, she would have kept Jim and Kupchak. Maybe LeBron would have signed elsewhere.
But Jeanie Jim and Kupchak appeared heading toward getting fired, anyway. LeBron’s desire to sign in Los Angeles could have gone beyond the front office.
It’s also worth noting that some blamed Kobe for the Lakers’ inability to land star free agents. So, his message could have also carried another agenda – setting up Jim Buss and Kupchak as fall guys for the problem.
From any angle, it worked.