source: Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com
DALLAS -- Players meetings are fine, but Magic Johnson thinks the Los Angeles Lakers need Kobe Bryant to sit down with management to address some issues.
Bryant and general manager Mitch Kupchak have been exchanging barbs in the media recently. Bryant said that the Lakers either need to trade Pau Gasol or say they're keeping him, and Kupchak said that the team would keep its options open.
Johnson thinks Kobe is missing the point concerning the GM, that he needs to speak to Jim Buss, who is the Lakers' vice president of player personnel and also the son of Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss.
"We have to remember now, it's not Mitch's situation anymore," Johnson told reporters on a conference call Tuesday promoting his upcoming ESPN film, "The Announcement," on Wednesday.
"[Kupchak is] not running the team," Johnson said. "Jim Buss is running the team. So, Mitch has to follow the direction of Jim Buss and what he wants. I wouldn't say Mitch is the problem or anything. He's going to do his job.
"… I think what Kobe really probably wants is just be informed. As a leader, as a future Hall of Famer, as a guy who has brought five championships to the Lakers and the fans of Los Angeles, he just wants to probably have more communication, probably like he did when Phil Jackson was there and he worked well with Mitch. I don't think that Kobe feels he's got that type of relationship or the communication has been there with Jim.
"So, I think what has to probably happen is sit Kobe down [and] Jim, sit him down [too] and say, 'Hey, Dr. Buss was the master at taking you to lunch or taking you to dinner and really going over what he thought about, or what he was thinking and what he wanted to do with the team and Jerry West was great at that a on the same page and it will be OK."
When Bryant was informed at shootaround about Johnson's suggestion for a sitdown between him and Jim Buss he offered only a one-word response -- "perhaps."
As for why Bryant made the comments in the first place that would necessitate the meeting with him and Buss?
"Nobody else is going to say it," Bryant said. "I'm the only one with cojones big enough to say it, so I said it."
Bryant has said that his preference is to keep Gasol, and Andrew Bynum with him.
"I don't know why you would trade Pau Gasol," he said during an appearance on "The Scott Van Pelt Show" on ESPN Radio. "We won two championships with him. He's definitely a great player. A top-two guy in the league at his position. So it's like, I don't really understand any of that stuff, but I don't have any say in it. I just have to keep going in and playing hard."
With the media abuzz with Bryant's and Kupchak's comments, Lakers players got together after Monday's win over Portland.
"I wouldn't have called it a 'team meeting,' " Bryant said after Lakers shootaround on Wednesday in preparation for their game against the Dallas Mavericks. "When I heard it was being labeled a team meeting it was pretty funny to me. It was just kind of after the game, guys talk and D-Fish [Derek Fisher] got up and talked and said a couple words and that was about it."
The Lakers answered questions Wednesday about the "meeting."
"I think it's great," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "I've been a part of many teams where guys call team meetings and what they're trying to do, they're trying to step up and take some ownership in the process on both sides of the ball. I'm more than happy about it. If they have them in the future, to me, I think that's a big positive."
Did the coach feel out of the loop and want to find out what issues the meeting addressed?
"I also do not need to know what they talked about in there," Brown said. "I did not ask for any details."
Bryant provided a few details to reporters, however. For starters, the postgame talk was Fisher's idea.
"He's kind of the meeting-caller," Bryant said. "I'm not much of a meeting person. But, he's the one that calls the meetings and does most of the emotional speaking."
As for what the meeting accomplished?
"It was just us understanding that we're reaching the midway point of the year and we really have to lock in on what we have to do and stay focused on ourselves and not let any outside distractions -- be it trade talk, be it criticism or whatever the case may be -- interfere with what we have to do as a group, as a cohesive unit," Bryant said. "That's really the gist of the message."
Bynum said it was simple as well.
"Just focus and commit to defense every night," he said. "[Against the Trail Blazers] we played major defense and that's what won us the game. For us, it's all about defense. Scoring the ball is one thing. We might not average 100 points. We average like, 92, 93. We gotta hold teams down if we want to have a chance at winning. So we can't come out and have nights where we just allow teams to go anywhere they want on."
While sources with familiarity of the players-only meeting told ESPNLosAngeles.com that friction between the players and coaching staff was one of the issues addressed Monday, Bryant gave Brown another public stamp of approval Wednesday.
"It's a constant learning process for him, coming into a group that's [established]," Bryant said. "We know how to play so well together, so forth and so on. We have certain things that are habitual for us, whether it's pregame routines and all this other stuff, that may seem shocking to him. Like, 'How the hell did you win championships doing this?' But it works for us and it's just a matter of him getting used to it and he's doing a good job."
The Lakers' game against the Mavericks is game No. 33 of their 66-game schedule, the exact halfway point for their regular season coming in the same location where their playoff run ended in an embarrassing 36-point blowout in the deciding game of the second-round sweep last season.
"It's a big challenge, they're playing extremely well," Bryant said of the Mavs. Dallas comes into Wednesday having won seven of its past eight games. "It's a good chance for us to measure up, see where we are and see if we can carry over what we did defensively against Portland and the second half against Phoenix to this game tonight. We'll see how well we do."
Bryant still has hope for his team, not just to beat the defending champion Mavs, but to return to championship form themselves.
"We can, but we got to be damn near perfect," Bryant said. "But we can. You see it in other sports where it happens where teams come seemingly out of nowhere, but that's because everybody is playing well at the right time and guys understand their assignments and understand their roles. It can happen."
As for Bryant and any widely perceived dissatisfaction with the franchise's direction and transition out of the Jackson era, Bynum insisted the iconic guard is just fine.
"He's been Kobe," the center said. "He's just going out and getting buckets. That's what he does."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Andy Kamenetzky was used in this report.