- J.A. Adande, ESPN Senior Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- In the latest episode of Candid Kobe, the Los Angeles Lakers star didn't tell anyone to shut up. He didn't suggest people are too bored to think properly. But, in a businesslike demeanor, he made it clear that he wants Phil Jackson to be the next coach of the Lakers.
"You guys know how I feel about Phil," Kobe Bryant said, without having been asked about Jackson specifically. "The one thing that's kind of always bothered me is the last year [of Jackson's second term with the Lakers] I wasn't able to give him my normal self, you know what I mean, because I was playing on one leg.
"That's always kind of eaten away at me. The last year of his career, I wasn't able to give him everything I had."
Bryant's damaged knee didn't even allow him to practice that season, disconnecting him from the team, unable to brand his co-workers with the searing heat he usually applies. The Lakers were swept out of the playoffs in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks, who hung a 36-point loss on Jackson in his final game.
Or was it his final game? Could there be an encore? Doesn't there almost have to be an encore?
"He's too great of a coach to kind of have it go out that way," Bryant said. "That's kind of my personal sentiment."
Bryant has made his choice. Mitch Kupchak said he might seek Bryant's opinion, but it's no longer necessary. Kobe hasn't withheld his opinion all year, from the 2012 Olympic team's chances to beat the Dream Team to the growing chorus of criticism of Mike Brown.
And now he has weighed in on the coaching search.
"I'm not hiding anything," Bryant said. " What more do you want me to say?"
It's not that Bryant has anything against Mike D'Antoni.
"I love D'Antoni and what he brings," Bryant said. But he has won championships with Jackson before and feels Jackson gives him the best chance to win a championship again.
It was that common history that first brought them back together after a nasty split in 2004, when Jackson revealed in his book that he considered Bryant uncoachable and tried to get him traded. But a year without Jackson, which not so coincidentally was Bryant's only year without the playoffs, convinced Bryant he was better off with the folksy coach.
In Bryant, Jackson saw the superstar in the prime of his career he would need to break his stalemate with Red Auerbach and get the 10th championship that would let him hold the NBA record on his own. By the end of their second go-round together, the two had formed a bond that was stronger than ever. Bryant says he even reads Jackson's suggested books these days.
Jackson is willing to listen to a Lakers proposal to return. "I think it's really just a matter of health, if he feels physically up to doing it," Bryant said.
Jackson is said to have braced for the possibility that a call could come his way, but he was caught off guard when the Lakers fired Brown only five games into the season.
It would be uncharacteristic -- unprecedented, really -- for Jackson to take over a team after the season already started. It might be a little turbulent at first as the Lakers shift from the Princeton offense to the Triangle. There are five holdovers from Jackson's last time with the Lakers who would not have to be taught from scratch. The hidden benefit from having newer players would be the remaining ears in the locker room who have not heard all of Jackson's words before.
If the Lakers bring back Jackson, they'd have to hope that it was a little ennui on both sides that caused the squad to fail so spectacularly in 2011. They'd have to hope that Jackson knew the lockout was coming and wanted no part of coaching in a compressed season and that it led him to check out a little early.
They'd have to hope that Dwight Howard decided to go all-in on this Shaq-footsteps thing and win an MVP award and championships under Jackson, as Shaq did at the peak of his career. They'd have to hope that Steve Nash, who doesn't fit the mold of the other point guards we've seen in the Triangle, would find his way in this offense.
There's only one thing they don't have to wonder about: Kobe Bryant signing off on the transaction. That's as good as done.
2hMichael C. Wright