For Kobe Bryant, exit interviews are inconvenient and borderline unnecessary. He's gotta shlep all the way down to El Segundo, whether by car or chopper. Once he's there, what's there to really discuss? I can't imagine his session with Phil Jackson and Mitch Kupchak was heavy on, "Kobe, we'd like to see you improve your _______, or just apply yourself more in general." If the franchise is in a great place - like now - there are only so many suggestions he can offer. And judging by 2007's aftermath, if the franchise isn't in a great place, an exit interview isn't necessary to pass along opinions. Were it not for the mandatory media meet n' greet (which he loves), Kobe could probably get by doing everything by video conference from his living room. It's one big pain in the butt, no more painfully obvious when the soccer nut was asked if he got to watch the USA's instant-classic win over Algeria.
"I missed the goal in the 90th minute because I was coming down here. So I missed the most exciting part."
But on the bright side, Kobe will be in South Africa soon enough to watch oodles of soccer in the flesh. And save the uncertain status of Phil Jackson and (technically speaking) Derek Fisher, it is nice knowing there's not a ton to worry about heading into next season's threepeat bid. This stability was reflected in Bryant's tone and mood with us.
Among other talking points....
Kobe thinks the Lakers could win it all again, but is leaving any offseason moves up to Mitch. "I don't even stress myself out thinking about that. My job's done. I did my part. Now he's gonna do what's best for the organization, for the team. I have all the confidence in the world that he can do it. So I'm not tripping."
This was Kobe's take on evolution as a leader over the last couple of years. "I still put my foot in their ass. Same old, same old. It hasn't really changed much. I just add a pat on the back every once in a while."
Kobe said the Lakers would be "drastically different" if Phil decided not to return, and not in a good way: "We all want him back and he knows that. I've stressed that over and over. Our personality of our team is made up of his composure, of his thought process, of his philosophies, so it changes things drastically, but I don't even want to think about that right now. It's killing my buzz."
Kobe hasn't made any decisions about offseason medical procedures (finger, ankle, knee, etc.), but it sounds like he's resigned to "something invasive" at some point during the summer. (For what it's worth, the busted finger caused him more consistent trouble than any other injury this season.) Obviously, his health will affect his decision to participate in USA Basketball, he'll get back to them pretty soon once some answers emerge. Even if he escaped time under the knife, Bryant did stress a desire to rest this summer, so I'm guessing he'll bow out of international competition.
If Kobe hasn't returned a recent phone call lately, don't take it personally. His phone was turned off during the postseason, and then he "irresponsibly deleted" about 500 voice mails that piled up in the process.
After giving 710 ESPN's own Beto "Barbara" Duran crap about even asking the question, his one-word description for the season was "epic."
I asked Kobe if he's taken the time to reflect on the difficulties experienced during the regular season, the Finals and his own Game 7. He has, and the extra sweat involved only enhanced the final prize. "I've had plenty of time to sit back and think about it and just smile at the challenge of it all. It makes it that much sweeter. Being down 3-2 and all those rowdy fans in Boston just being one... game... away. Coming back and sticking it to them. It felt good."
Like everyone on the planet, Kobe was amused by the loopy joy exuded during Ron Artest's now-legendary postgame presser. "That's Ron. He's a sweetheart, man. He just has such innocence about him." He was also amused by Artest's "Kobe passed me the ball" refrain, and knew exactly what the small forward meant. "He knows my rules. You get a couple of cracks at this thing, now. If you ain't making them open threes, then move that *%^$ along. Don't shoot it."
The videos from Kobe's interview can be seen below the jump.