This unpleasant scenario underscores just how reckless it was of the Lakers to offer Bryant that extension, and how short-sighted it was of Bryant to sign it. His age, temperament and salary are ill-suited to reconstruction. Bryant wants to pursue a sixth championship. The Lakers want to start fresh with flexibility and a top-five pick. They could have parted amicably, agreeing to meet back at Staples Center for the jersey retirement, but now they are looking like an old married couple destined to live out their final years in discord. The Lakers are essentially paying Bryant $48 million to help groom whomever they draft, a risky choice for a tutor, and a role he may or may not embrace.
The most important acquisition for the Lakers this summer, beyond their draft choice, could be a new coach. They are building a foundation, with the relationship between the coach and the pick being the first element. Before the Knicks lured Jackson, they were reportedly targeting the Bulls' Tom Thibodeau as their next coach, even though Thibodeau is under contract. If the Knicks had any shot at Thibodeau, who has clashed with management, so should the Lakers, in case a Doc Rivers-style swap presents itself. Thibodeau, as a side benefit, has known Bryant since the Lower Merion days. He is just one example -- along with his mentor, Jeff Van Gundy -- of a coach who can alter the identity of a franchise, through force of personality, and put a much-needed new face on it.