The Lakers had Kobe Bryant's approval to hire Mike D'Antoni. (Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty…)
Kobe Bryant didn't envision Mike D'Antoni becoming the Lakers' next coach. Neither did his teammates.
"I think we were all kind of thinking it was going to be Phil" Jackson, Bryant said Tuesday. "It probably caught Mike off guard a little bit too. But I'm excited."
Jackson coached Bryant for 11 seasons on the Lakers, the two of them winning five championships together.
"Phil and I have gone back since I was 20 years old and everything he's taught me and so forth," said Bryant, normally not the nostalgic type. "There's a little bit of that. At the same time, I'm very excited about Coach D. I know Phil will be enjoying his retirement and looking to get back in the game, although probably not in a coaching standpoint, probably a managerial role at some point."
Bryant was asked by team executive Jim Buss who would be the best candidate to succeed the fired Mike Brown.
"To be honest, I said D'Antoni was my first choice because I didn't even know Phil was going to be an option," Bryant said. "And then Jimmy's the one that brought up Phil's name. I didn't even know that was a consideration. They said, 'Well it is, and I want to know how you feel about it.' I said 'I love it' and that was it. They knew my two guys that I liked. If one didn't work out obviously with Phil, they knew that they had my approval to pull the trigger on the other one."
Bryant said he "very much" appreciated Buss seeking his opinion, calling their relationship "much more open and much more fluid."
D'Antoni employed highly charged offenses while coaching Phoenix and New York. He was also an assistant on the last two U.S. Olympic teams.
"He's an offensive genius," Bryant said. "The offense that he installed for our U.S. team is the offense that we've run to the tune of two gold medals. We all know the type of talent that we have on that team so it was important for us to have an offense that was flexible, that was open, that kept everybody involved."
The Lakers definitely don't have the same shooters and speed that D'Antoni had when his Phoenix teams were consistently breaking 100 points.
"It's going to be fine," Bryant said. "It's not like he takes the same thing that he did in Phoenix and incorporates that here. He has different personnel. He can use Steve [Nash] to his greatest advantages, and me to mine, and Dwight [Howard] to his and Pau [Gasol] to his."
What about D'Antoni's reputation as a poor defensive coach?
"That's just because he hasn't won any championships," Bryant said. "To be honest, we might have done in all the years I've been with Phil maybe three defensive drills. I'm not understating it at all. But his philosophy was you guys need to figure it out on your own and that's what made him a phenomenal coach. He was able to sit back and trust the process. As a result, we've had some great defensive teams."
The Lakers might have a greater incentive to play defense, Bryant added.
"With all the chatter that's going on, particularly about how [D'Antoni] is not a good defensive coach, I think we'll rally around that and come out with a point to prove," he said.
While Jackson was reflective and calm on the sidelines, D'Antoni was often more vocal.
"I know how competitive he is," Bryant said. "He's a feisty, feisty dude. Temperamental, even. I like that."