Friday, March 23, 2012

Kobe Bryant calls Jim Buss a 'great guy'

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Within a four-month span, the feeling Lakers guard Kobe Bryant had toward the team's front office subtly changed.

In December, Bryant criticized the Lakers for trading Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks, yet still gave the front office a vote of confidence at least for pursuing Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. In February, Bryant blasted the front office for leaving Pau Gasol in limbo and giving uncertain signals about the organization's direction. And on an appearance Thursday on 710 ESPN's Mason & Ireland, Bryant called executive Jim Buss a "great guy" and praised the Lakers for making "the right decisions."

"We have a good relationship," said Bryant, regarding his relationship with Jim Buss. "People misunderstand that relationship. We’ve had good times. We’ve had dinner together, things like that. He’s a great guy. He wants to do the right thing, he wants to help us win a championship. The biggest thing is, the same with his father who he’s learned from, he’s not going to make rushed decisions. He’s going to be patient, he’s going to take his time, and the one thing I will say about the Lakers organization is that this is one of those franchises that always seems to land on its feet. Always seems to make the right choices, always seems to make the right decisions. Even the tough ones. He’s a great guy.”

Bryant's comments surely reflect the changing circumstances surrounding the Lakers. They upgraded their backcourt by acquiring Ramon Sessions from Cleveland, and his quick speed, pick-and-roll execution and court vision has immediately bolstered it. The Lakers (29-18) remain in third place in the Western Conference, a far cry from their seventh-place standing they had in the beginning of the season. And Bryant and Andrew Bynum have both had breakout seasons.

But as far as Bryant's sudden revelation that he and Jim Buss get along? Don't buy it one bit. Two months ago, Bryant told the New York Post's Peter Vecsey he couldn't even recall the last time he saw Jim Buss. Just last month, Magic Johnson suggested Jim Buss needs to have dinner or lunch with Bryant so he feels more in the loop on the franchise's direction. Bryant offered a non-commited "possibly" when asked if he'd agree to such a meeting.

Well, that dinner has apparently taken place. Yet, Bryant's praise toward Jim Buss points more to the Lakers' moves made before the deadline than the two apparently getting along.

Bryant has remained steadfast about one thing, though.

Even through the uncertainty surrounding roster changes and adjusting to Mike Brown's coaching staff, Bryant maintainted the Lakers could be in contention for their third NBA title in four years.

"We are a championship-caliber team," Bryant said on Mason & Ireland. "I've never understood the talk about us not being a contender. I've never understood it from the start of the season until now. You have myself, you have Andrew (Bynum) and you have Pau. Who has three players like that on one roster? And then you have Metta (World Peace) and you have (Matt) Barnes.

"So I hear all this talk and all these conversations and here we are two games out of the second seed in the Western Conference despite our struggles on the road and with the new coaching staff and the new system and new personnel. I always believed we were contenders but we just had to be quiet about it."

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