Author Roland Lazenby on the Lakers' Demise: It's Not All Kobe's Fault

Have you noticed the LA Times has a new Lakers Blog? It's written by Andrew and Brian Kamenetzky and so far I like it.

Right now there's a great interview up there with veteran NBA reporter and author Roland Lazenby. He wrote lots of books with colons in the title, including the new The Show: The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers in the Words of Those Who Lived It, Mad Game: The NBA Education of Kobe Bryant, Mindgames: Phil Jackson's Long Strange Journey, and Blood on the Horns: The Long Strange trip of Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.

This interview has all kinds of juicy tidbits
, including Jerry West using four-letter words in regards to Phil Jackson just before he hired him. But the meat of the matter is Lazenby's nuanced take on what caused the tragic split between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal:

Of course Kobe wasn't guilt-free. He was, however, a 17-year-old kid. Shaq led the rest of the locker room. He was the big guy in the school house. Kobe came in full of ambition, willing to work hard. Very much an alpha male even at that age. His work ethic didn't match the older players around him. As Derek Fisher explained to me, we should have had Kobe's work ethic, we should have worked that hard. Kobe set a tone that wasn't in synch with the team.

On the court Del Harris had no real offensive structure or plan, other than to get the ball into Shaq and mostly have everyone spaced around him. His practices were hardly greatly organized affairs. Don't get me wrong. Del Harris is a fine coach. The business as usual in pro basketball wasn't ready to deal with players as young as Kobe, much in need of guidance. So the circumstances play a role in that. My point, though, is that Kobe wasn't going public with some petty beef.

The reality is that the Lakers were one good rebounder away from winning it all in 04 and keeping it all together. If they had better relationships, they would have survived perhaps. But Shaq was really pushing for a huge pay raise that simply strapped the Lakers, which is a small organization. Phil wanted more power, more say so. Kobe had always been their foil, the representative of how Jerry Buss envisioned basketball. Shaq pushed his agenda, Phil pushed his, and Kobe simply wanted out. He was fed up. He was fed up with all the pettiness and criticism and games. People say that Kobe has always studied and created his image. I think in most ways, he's been pretty naive about his image. All this Shaq and Phil stuff is minor compared with Eagle and all that. That's what put Kobe on a lot of people's hate list. I spent the past two days rereading The Last Season, and Phil really smeared Kobein that book at a time when he was facing a lot of challenges. Very sanctimonious stuff, really.