Kobe Bryant’s daily soap opera has Laker fans guessing if he’ll be traded or not. The logical conclusion is that the Lakers will keep him another season but then may be forced to face the reality they have to make a move.
Bryant has four years remaining on his contract but can leave after two. If the Lakers believe he’s choosing to go they’d be wise to make a deal one year from now in order to get something in return.
To many Laker fans it is unthinkable that a team in the nation’s entertainment capital would trade basketball’s most entertaining player.
The Lakers don’t want to do it, reasoning that ticket sales and marketing income would dwindle.
But Bryant’s bizarre behavior last week, including his strong desire to be traded and declaration he’s a Laker for life in the same day, illustrate his level of frustration with a team that hasn’t won a playoff series in three years.
And it’s unlikely the Lakers can satisfy his desire to play for a contending team next season, even if they accelerate their quest for roster improvement.
There isn’t much they can do because of league salary cap restrictions and their absence of marketable talent. To put it another way, the Lakers don’t have many players that other teams want.
They’ve inquired about Indiana’s Jermaine O’Neal and Denver’s Marcus Camby, but aren’t close to closing a deal. Because of Bryant going public with his demand for better teammates, the Lakers may have to pacify him by trading 7-foot Andrew Bynum, who they drafted two years ago with the future in mind.
They knew they’d have to wait for him to develop, and if they played in Milwaukee or some such place that would be possible. But fans in Los Angeles – paying outlandish prices and spoiled by the franchise’s past success – aren’t patient.
What we have learned in the three years since Shaquille O’Neal was traded is Bryant’s almost unbelievable scoring ability isn’t enough to produce an elite team without a dominant big man.
The Lakers aren’t as good as the Spurs, Suns or Mavericks, the West’s best teams. They may not be as good as the Clippers or Warriors, and now it has become likely that 7-foot rookie Greg Oden is going to play for the Trail Blazers, making them a contender for a playoff berth too.
Trading Bryant could bring in three helpful players who could upgrade the Lakers’ roster. The case can be made that it does make sense.
All we have learned since the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs last month is the team does not intend to bring back guard Smush Parker.
Whether they’ll sign free agent Luke Walton remains to be seen.
Another year of Bryant leading the league in scoring will be entertaining, but it’s hard to envision him finishing his career here on poor teams.
The beginning of the end was sending away Jerry West. Then O’Neal.
Starting over may be the way to go, painful as that may be for many fans.
It happened in Boston, where the once-mighty Celtics have become ordinary. And it happened in Chicago, where the Bulls didn’t win a playoff series for eight years after Michael Jordan retired.