LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant says the growing pains LeBron James and the Lakers have endured for much of this season are a necessary evil but that they will square things away soon enough.
Bryant, speaking at the Lakers’ annual “All-Access” event at Staples Center on Monday, said they have “a determination to figure it out.”
“They will figure it out,” Bryant said. “They have talented pieces and (Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka) has put them in position with incredible flexibility. They will figure it out. So, enjoy the journey because we’ll be champions before you know it, and then we’ll just be laughing at all the Warrior fans who all of the sudden came out of nowhere.”
Bryant said James’ approach to his maiden voyage with the Lakers is not conducive to long-term success, but that it was needed at this stage in the team’s development.
“It’s a test of Bron’s patience and also doing what he needs to do to keep the team’s head above water,” Bryant told Lakers play-by-play announcer Bill MacDonald at the “All-Access” event. “So, it’s a balancing act. They were struggling, Bron got the ball, took control, decided to start playing point, doing everything, doing everything.
“That’s not the recipe for winning championships by no means, but it is a recipe to keep your head above water, to give yourself a little breathing room, and now it’s going back to teaching how to play the way that we want to play.”
L.A. started the season 2-5, prompting Lakers team president of basketball operations Magic Johnson to dress down coach Luke Walton in an intense closed-door meeting.
Since then, the Lakers have stabilized and steadily climbed the standings, ranking No. 5 in the Western Conference with a record of 14-9 heading into Wednesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. James, who turns 34 this month, is averaging 27.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game for the Lakers and has played in all 23 of L.A.’s games.
Bryant retired in 2016 but has stayed connected to some of the Lakers. He has deep friendships with Jeanie Buss, the Lakers governor, and Pelinka, who used to be his agent during his playing days. He also is tied to the Lakers’ young core, working out with several players in the summertime. Now he watches those young pieces try to mesh with James, his longtime peer and sometimes rival, and is seeing the process play out.
“Coming in here, to this organization and this city, it’s not anything that’s new to him,” Bryant said of James. “He’s always had the spotlight. He’s been able to deal with that gracefully. I think the difference here is that you have a collection of players and a lot of talent, all young. And so the challenge is, can they figure out what their games are individually sooner rather than later?
“Because at the beginning of the season, you saw a collection of individual talent try to figure out what it is that they can do and where they can do it on the floor — what are their games? And at the same time, try to figure out how to make those games blend in as a group. Right? And you can’t have both.”
Bryant said that restlessness is OK for the young players to feel, but that pressure has to come from within each individual, not from the outside.
“The patience is on all of us. We have to be patient,” Bryant said. “But as a player, you’re never patient with yourself. You’re patient with each other, but not with yourself. You want to be there now. And you work to be there now with an understanding that it is going to take time. But you want to be there now. That’s the way that you accelerate growth. They have a lot of potential, man. They’ll figure it out.”
Bryant, who announced the launch of the Mamba Sports Academy on Monday — a holistic athletic training facility for young athletes located in Thousand Oaks, California — detailed filling his days during retirement with both his business ventures and coaching his daughter, Gianna’s, 12-year-old girls’ basketball team. Bryant’s team recently staged a game against his former agent and Pelinka’s 10-year-old son’s boys’ basketball team. Bryant’s team won (Bryant says by four, Pelinka says by two) and the proud coach has even sent video clips of his daughter’s team running the triangle to former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
“I love messing with Phil,” Bryant said. “I sent a clip to Phil of our girls running ‘Center Opposite,’ versus a zone. No kidding. Center Opposite, the second guard fill, swing, corner to corner. OK? I sent him the video. … He texted me back, ‘Man, they actually ran that beautifully!’ I said, ‘Yeah, they had a better coach, what the hell did you expect? And I didn’t have to burn sages for them to do that.'”
Bryant also offered quick takes on a couple of new Lakers other than James. On Rajon Rondo, who he once tried to recruit to come to L.A. to play with him, he said:
“He’s moody. He’s feisty. He’s temperamental. He’s a teammate’s dream.”
And then he commented on Tyson Chandler, who is only four years younger than him at 36, but still playing.
“Tyson’s got to be like 80 years old,” Bryant said with a laugh. “This guy doesn’t age a lick. He’s like black Gandalf with the beard.”
The Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission hosted the event and presented Bryant with a Harry Potter gift package, courtesy of Warner Bros. Studios, on stage at the conclusion of the Q&A. Bryant said his production company, Granity Studios, is developing a series of books inspired by both fantasy and sports.
“It’s like if Harry Potter and the Olympics had a baby,” Bryant said. “It works … kinda.”