The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off one of the most important offseasons in the team’s history after signing generational superstar LeBron James.
In a wonderfully insightful story published by Sam Amick, we learned how five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant helped play a behind-the-scenes role in this process. Bryant, who spent 20 years with the franchise, told team owner Jeanie Buss that the front office would need to look plenty different in order to sign James
Part of the solution to the dysfunction, according to Bryant, would be to cut ties with her older brother Jim Buss as well as longtime Los Angeles general manager Mitch Kupchak (via The Athletic):
“Cut it all out at once. I know it’s hard to do, but if you want to turn this ship around, and turn it around sooner rather than later, then you’ve got to make those hard decisions … I know who we’re trying to get; we know who we’re trying to get, so that player is not going to come here with all of this sh*t going on. It’s not going to happen.”
Bryant believed that Los Angeles would need to “reshuffle the deck” to attract someone as talented and influential as James. He said that a new culture within the organization, where the house was in order, would help make the franchise more appealing as a potential destination.
Buss had already hired Magic Johnson as an adviser to the team, but had not yet figured out a long-term solution for him in the front office. But two weeks after she met with Bryant, her brother was removed as the VP of basketball operations. Johnson became president of basketball operations for the team.
Kupchak, who had worked in the front office for Los Angeles since 1986, was one of the original executives that traded for Bryant on draft night. It was not uncommon for the outspoken Bryant to complain about Kupchak during his playing career. He recorded a video denouncing his GM in 2007 after they failed to land top talents around the league including Jason Kidd.
Ultimately, Kupchak was replaced by Bryant’s agent Rob Pelinka — who negotiated the 18-time All-Star’s final (but cumbersome) contract with Los Angeles. Buss, Johnson and Pelinka were able to create an enticing pitch to convince James to take his talents to the Western Conference for at least the next four seasons.