In his 15th season as a Laker, Kobe Bryant made another All-Star team and was elected to the All-Defensive First Team for the ninth time by NBA coaches, but will likely remember only the fact that he wasn’t able to win a sixth NBA title. Bryant played in all 82 regular season games for the third time in four years, rarely practicing to keep his legs for games and save some juice for the playoffs.
He averaged 25.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 33.9 minutes, the fewest he played since 1997-98, and shot 45.1 percent from the field and 32.3 percent from three. In 10 playoff games, Bryant averaged 22.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists with 1.6 steals on 44.6 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from three.
Below is a summary of his exit interview:
- Bryant identified fatigue as the biggest factor in L.A.’s fall: “It’s been a long run, a great run but a long run. I’m sure that had something to do with it. I think the biggest thing was the fatigue factor. Guys were tired. A lot of times when you get tired, you get burdened by things that you’re normally not burdened by. I love quoting Tex (Winter), who always used to say “Fatigue makes cowards of all men.” It’s definitely true.
- On Phil Jackson going out in such fashion: I’m very disappointed. I just had a chance to spend some time with him before coming down here, and it’s sad because of the way it ended. But still we gotta remember the good old times, last year and how that ended and the year before that even.” Bryant went on to discuss what he learned from Jackson, which includes just a general life philosophy that Bryant said he adopted and carries with him. Obviously, he affected Bryant a great deal in terms of basketball as well.
- Bryant discussed how different his first (1999-2004) and second stretches (2005-2011) were with Jackson: “The first time around I learned a lot from him … the second time around even more so, because he was more open around me. I trusted him more, and the first time around I really didn’t. The second time around, we could have conversations and they just stayed between us. We talked about a great deal of things, and because of that, I learned so much more. I understood the first time around that it was a different dynamic. He had to appease the big fella (Shaq). In doing that, a lot of times I was road kill. The second time around we didn’t have that issue, it was pretty easy for us to just stay with just the two of us.”
- Bryant does not think Phil Jackson will ever coach again.
- Bryant’s simple answer to what LAL need to do in the offseason: “Just refocus. Some guys will rest, some will train, some will get healthy. Re-focus, and come back next year with a good sense of purpose.”
- Kobe spent some time discussing his health, an ever-interesting topic: “I’m actually all right. My foot’s still a little swollen, but other than that I’m OK. This is a good summer for me to train and get strong.” Kobe said that he hasn’t really had that chance in the past two summers, with surgery last year and playing deep into June the season before, so he couldn’t strength train as he’d have liked. Much of this revolves around Kobe’s knee, which is why he didn’t practice much, trying to save himself more for games. But without being able to come into the season strong, and then not practicing, he just wasn’t able to reach his peak, physically. He could do everything, but not quite at the level he thinks he can when physically stronger. “There’s a difference between feeling healthy and feeling as strong as I know I can be … there’s another level I can get to.”
- Does Kobe think L.A. can win again next season? “I absolutely believe that.”
- One challenge for LAL to grasp onto is just trying to do it without Phil: “I think we have a challenge right in front of ourselves … you have a coach that’s different from Phil at the helm. That’s a challenge right there. And then the window closing theory, us being done, that kinda stuff. We can latch onto that pretty easily.”
- Kobe on what Brian Shaw could bring as a coaching candidate: “Familiarity. He communicates with all of us very well. You’re very clear about your role on the team.” Bryant said later that no matter who the coach is, the players will have to realize that things are going to be different, that they can’t lean on what Phil did.
- Kobe on what he’ll miss about Phil: “Just talking to him.” He cited all the long conversations he had with Jackson on the team plane, as Kobe sat right across the aisle. He also alluded to how they were able to get over the first stint, including Phil’s famously calling him “uncoachable.” Kobe said he doesn’t like to get, or give, apologies, and that they both just grew past it. He didn’t make it seem like it was all that difficult. Furthermore, Kobe said he will always talk to Phil, and will probably chat with him in a couple of weeks.
- On rumors of Kobe and Pau having personal issues: “It didn’t anger me so much as it made me laugh. People will angle for anything when we struggle. It was ridiculous.”
- An issue for L.A. all season was Kobe’s not practicing, as Bryant described: “I think it played a part in that fact that guys felt like they could take days off ’cause I’m not there. It’s like if your big brother’s not around, you feel like you can go around the house and (mess with) toys and stuff, because I’m not on the court with you. It’s upsetting to me. They knew going in what my knee situation was, and we communicated that with them. Me not being able to practice, and them having to pick up some of that responsibility in practice because of my knee. So, it’s upsetting, it’s disappointing to me, because I wasn’t able to be out there with them every day. But at the same time, you can’t use it as a crutch or an excuse because I wasn’t out there, (and not) work as hard as they should have.” The gist of what we heard from other players about Kobe not practicing was that it made it difficult to find a rhythm in games, for example, when they couldn’t fully run things in practice, as opposed to it being about a lack of hard work.
- Kobe believes that will change for next season, however. With a full offseason to get strong, as referred to in the health paragraph above, Kobe thinks he’ll be able to get on the practice floor more often.
- On changing his game in recent years, which he says means he won’t have to do much differently moving forward: “I’ve adjusted by being in the post a lot more, the mid post, the elbow area, which conserves a lot more energy. That adjustments already been made.”