Gary Payton openly admitted he joined the Lakers in 2003 to chase a ring. But his one-year stint in LA was so filled with chaos that the team never really stood a chance -- they got to the Finals but lost a five-game series to the Detroit Pistons.
Instead of helping them win their fourth-straight NBA title, GP's veteran presence was mostly utilized to keep the Lakers from falling apart. Kobe-Shaq feud, O'Neal's contract negotiations, as well as injuries were all setbacks the organization had to deal with before even getting to the postseason.
But the biggest one was Kobe's Colorado incident.
Dealing with the situation
During his interview with DJ Vlad, Payton talked about what it was like being on the Lakers during that time. He discovered that all the turmoil deriving from the incident was brought on the Lakers from the outside. Internally, they were able to set it aside.
"It was bringing a lot of chaos because the media was bringing chaos. It wasn't bringing chaos between our team, because I had took over being the big brother of Kobe. We weren't caring about that, and I told him I didn't care about that. We just got to consult him and make him feel better and that's what it was because he was going back and forth doing a lot of things."
The most publicized thing about the Lakers at that time had nothing to do with basketball. With everything else that was going on internally, dealing with another distraction would've destroyed the Lakers' already slim chances of completing a four-peat. That's why they entrusted Payton to manage Kobe through what was the biggest challenge of his life.
"During that time, we couldn't have that," The Glove said. "That wasn't what's going on. And I got it for a point. That's why the Lakers said, 'Gary, you be his mentor during his year.' And I understood all of that. Because it' a big deal thinking you're gonna go to jail for the rest of your life. Especially in a city where they were trying to kill him."
Kobe got paranoid
The whole situation left a lasting effect on Kobe. The Glove would go as far as to say it made him paranoid.
"Everybody would get paranoid when you are in a situation where you knew what happened and then somebody lied on you," Payton said. You gotta get paranoid."
Kobe, like any other NBA superstar, had to deal with a lot of unwanted attention -- he was one of the most famous individuals, especially in NBA circles. But this took it to another level. And for all the wrong reasons. Carrying the baggage of that size meant all of Bryant's focus couldn't be on the game. And that's precisely where the Lakers needed it.
That discrepancy alone ruined the team's title chances, creating a domino effect that would eventually end their season at the NBA Finals mark. For most teams, that's a successful season; for the '03 Lakers coming off three straight titles, it was a disappointment.