Kobe Bryant spoke for nearly 25 minutes Wednesday afternoon at his exit interview in El Segundo, looking back at a season he said he'd look back on as "a wasted year of my life," his time together with Phil Jackson, what went wrong for the team and how it might change going forward.
He expressed great confidence in the current roster, despite a season of struggles and the epic flameout vs. Dallas in the playoffs. "If this team came back as is, I think we could win."
Particularly, he said, with this year's failure fresh on the mind, and a host of new motivating factors to help push them. "I think we have a challenge that's right in front of us. It's low hanging fruit," he said. "You have a coach that's different than Phil at the helm. A lot of people people probably don't expect us to continue on winning without Phil as the head coach. That's a challenge right there, in and of itself. And then the window closing theory, and us being done now and that kind of talk, that's stuff that I'm sure we can latch on to pretty easily."
Here, he comments on what hurt the Lakers this season, his confidence in the roster, and whether the Lakers need to run the triangle next season:
Bryant spoke of his relationship with Jackson, and how he grew to trust him far more in Jackson's second stint with the team than the first. "The first time around, I learned a lot from him. The second time around, even more so, because he was more open around me and had more of trust. Or I trusted him more. The first time around, I really didn't. The second time around, he and I could have conversations and they just stayed between us. We talked about a great deal of things and because of that, I learned a great deal."
Comparing the two eras isn't an apples-to-apples type deal. "I understood the first time around it was a different dynamic," Bryant said. "We had to appease the big fella (Shaquille O'Neal). A lot of times, I was road kill. The second time around, we didn't have that issue."
Click below for more of Kobe, including comments on how he repaired his relationship with Jackson following the contentious breakup of the three-peat squad, his health and practice habits, and more...
Context, Bryant said, played a big role in allowing him to move forward with Jackson once he returned for a second go. Phil's book, in which he called Kobe "uncoachable," was barely discussed. "We had one phone conversation where we mentioned it, briefly," Bryant said. "Then it was time to move on. I understood. I’m no dummy, I understood the dynamics of what the hell was going on, so I knew this time around would be different.
Apologies weren't part of the deal.
"I’m not the type that wants an I’m sorry. I feel insulted if you tell me I’m sorry, because that suggests that I was affected by your comment in the first place, which I wasn’t. I’m not big on giving I’m sorry’s unless I mean it."
He also comments in the video below on issues of on-court chemistry during the season and into the playoffs.
Bryant says he feels healthy going into what could be a very long postseason, which can only help him get back to a level physically he'd prefer. He expects to be stronger when camp opens next year... whenever that might be. Surgery to repair his right index finger, however, isn't on the table. Even with the potential for a lockout, Bryant said it's too hard to time his recovery to the start of the season. Not worth the risk of missing games.
From there, it's on to questions about new hunger and motivation:
That Kobe was unable to practice with any consistency is no secret. Asked about how it impacted the team, Bryant said he was disappointed in how the team reacted, believing the players didn't quite have the same intensity as they otherwise might have, since "big brother" wasn't on the floor to keep them in line. They could take "days off." There's probably some truth to that, but the larger issue is how hard it is for a team to gain continuity on both sides of the ball when the main cog is rarely on the floor to practice. Particularly offensively, where the Lakers struggled to create good looks deeper into games. It wasn't something that could be avoided -- Kobe wasn't sitting on the sidelines to protect a pedicure, but a bum knee -- but was a factor for sure.
They got away with it in 2009-10, but this year it hurt. The good news is with a summer to rest and no major injuries to tend to, he expects to practice more next season.
Bryant also talks about the Mavs, and their high level of play during the Western Conference semifinals. As far as the sweep marking, as it was put in the question, "the decline of the Lakers," Bryant disagreed strongly, noting how the Showtime teams never won three straight, but weren't broken up during their run.