Three years ago, the Los Angeles Lakers were standing at the edge of their collective precipice, preparing for a fall from grace. They had just lost the NBA championship to the Detroit Pistons in five games, and the organization was at a crossroads. The rift between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal had widened beyond repair, and even hardened veterans Gary Payton and Karl Malone had grown weary of the Hollywood drama. Changes were imminent for the NBA's marquee team, and it's up-and-coming superstar, Kobe Bryant, wanted to see what direction they were heading. So, he sat down for an exit interview with front office representatives, who told him they were going to build a contender around him, and that Shaq was already on his way out of town. The Lakers were to become Bryant's team, and they were going to make all the necessary moves to hang another championship banner inside Staples Center.
In the time since, General Manager Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family haven't exactly made good on the promise they made to Kobe. They've brought in as many good players as they've sent away, and the Lakers have fought in vain to transcend mediocrity. After two years of ignominious first-round dismissals at the hands of the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs (and one year of missing the second season altogether), the man they call Black Mamba had finally had enough, and struck back. After discovering the Lakers' plans included much more rebuilding than trophies, Bryant's frustration boiled over, and he went public with it.
What followed has been a maelstrom of purple and gold, with reports surfacing seemingly every hour with a fresh angle on Kobe's newfound resentment towards his only professional employers to this point. Accusations of deception and incompetence accompany reports from "insiders," "confidants," and "team sources" that relay acrimony and stubbornness from both camps, news that overshadowed most of the lackluster NBA Finals. Whether he intended to or not, the Lakers guard has once more found himself center stage in the sports world.
Kobe Bryant has always been a divisive personality. Fans latch onto his charisma, athleticism, and sense of the moment and deify him for it. Critics cite his ego, legal troubles, and clashes with teammates and demonize his every move. His strife with the Lakers front office is no different. Supporters are calling for the organization to finally bring in championship-caliber talent, whereas cynics would prefer trading Bryant to a team like the Chicago Bulls for a collective of young talent.
Both points of view have their merits. If Kobe stays and the Lakers try to build around him, using trading chips such as Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum to bring in another marquee name, like Kevin Garnett, the Lakers could once again become a force in the Western Conference. Owner Dr. Jerry Buss could presumably placate his agitated superstar, and the Showtime Dr. Buss values so much would return to Los Angeles. However, the biggest problem with bringing in another big star is another big contract. Bryant is owed more than $88 million over the next four years (presuming he doesn't opt out after two), and taking on another contract, like Garnett's, would severely handicap the Lakers as far as filling the other holes in their roster - most notably at point guard. Not to mention the caveat that even if Los Angeles manages to bring in top-tier talent, there's no guarantee Kobe will stay.
As far as trading Bryant is concerned, there are a few packages out there that are somewhat attractive, but the biggest hitch in this theory is that the Lakers cannot get equal value in return for Kobe on the open market, because he demanded a trade and effectively compromised the organization's leveraging ability. In addition, Kobe possesses the NBA's only active no-trade clause in his contract, which means that if the Lakers try to send him to someplace like Atlanta or Memphis, they can forget it. The short list of teams Bryant is actually interested in includes Chicago, New York, and Dallas. In other words, a big city or a big contender.
Yesterday, news broke that the Lakers had entered into serious negotiations with the Minnesota Timberwolves to try and acquire power forward Kevin Garnett via trade. The rumors took various incarnations - at first, the deal included both the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers, and later was narrowed to just Los Angeles and Minnesota. Garnett is the biggest fish in a sea of available players this summer, and if the Lakers were to hook him, it could solve a lot of problems for the beleaguered franchise. What remains to be seen is whether or not this potential panacea will stem the ire of Kobe Bryant - or whether it's three years too late.
Copyright © 2010 Tyler Langness
Copyright © 2010 Tyler Langness
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