Kobe Bryant hasn't always had the best relationship with Phil Jackson, but over the years Bryant has grown to respect the Zen Master more than anybody else in the basketball world. When Kobe was a cocky young kid he had a different view of the way Phil coaches and teaches than he does now and he clearly misses having Phil around.
"Phil, obviously, you guys know how I feel about Phil," Bryant said. "The one thing that's kind of always bothered me is that his last year, I wasn't able to give him my normal self because I was playing on one leg. That's always kind of eaten away at me that the last year of his career, I wasn't able to give him everything I had."
You can tell how much Bryant cares about Phil by the way he recalls his inability to perform at 100% during the 2010 post-season. The two went through so much together over the span of a decade and it didn't sit well with Bryant that PJ's career ended with a post-season sweep and a topless Andrew Bynum.
But will Phil come back? Kobe says if he's healthy, he'd do it.
"Knowing him the way I do, I think it's really just a matter of health, if he feels physically up to doing it," Bryant said. "He's a perfectionist. We all know he's a perfectionist. If he feels like he can come in here and give what he demands from himself, then I think he would be interested."
Bryant also had some interesting things to say about the difference between Phil and other coaches.
"He teaches us the little nuances, the details, the intricacies of the game that just a lot of people just don't know," Bryant said. "It's no fault of their own. When it comes to basketball, he's a genius level. So it's tough for anybody to step in those shoes afterwards from players that were raised underneath that tutelage."
I highly doubt that Kobe was referencing anybody in particular when he says "a lot of people don't know," but I can say that one of the areas that Mike Brown fell short in was his (and his team's) attention to detail.
Pau Gasol was also asked about having Phil back, but his answer was not as firm.
"That's an option, I guess," Gasol said. "I love Phil. He's obviously a great, an amazing, a great coach. But again, I don't know where he stands on this and if he would be interested or not and if the ownership thinks that it's the right thing. I believe it would be the top one on the list."
Dwight Howard chose to keep quiet on the situation, saying he learned his lesson last year in Orlando.
After praising Phil, Bryant also said that he would be happy with Mike D'Antoni as the new head coach and mentioned Brian Shaw's name. Kobe grew up watching D'Antoni play in Italy and has worked with him twice as a player with Team USA. Steve Nash obviously has a relationship with D'Antoni from their days together running the famous Seven Seconds or Less offense in Phoenix. Bryant has been a fan of Shaw's for years now and publicly endorsed him as Phil's replacement after the 2010 season. Shaw is currently an assistant coach for the Indiana Pacers.
Inevitably, Bernie Bickerstaff was asked about the "We want Phil!" chants that broke out while Kobe was at the free throw line last night and had this to say:
"I can understand why. I mean, the guy's got the rings, right?"
I guess the "COUNT THA RINGZZ!!" argument is more popular than we thought.