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Where Might Kobe Bryant End Up?

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In reading Mike Bresnahan's recap of his interview with Jerry Buss in the LA Times this morning, my mind began to wonder.  If indeed Kobe Bryant is not untouchable from Dr. Buss' perspective, then what is next?  While it's been obvious from the beginning of this particular soap opera that Kobe would be a Laker this season, that's only because his opt out is still two seasons away.  The urgency to get some value in return (forget equal value) will increase soon, and incrementally so unless the team wins NOW, which frankly seems pretty unlikely.  So that begs the question:  where would he go?

And then a chilling thought came to me?  What was that other team that courted him the last time he was a free agent?  Some other team that reportedly almost lured him away from the Lakers?

Would the Clippers consider blowing up this team and actively dumping salary to put them into position to offer Kobe Bryant a maximum contract in 2009, when he is eligible to opt out of his current Lakers' deal?  

If they thought they had a chance, then Yes, they would probably do it.  But if they're looking at the situation realistically, then they have to realize that there is no real chance of Kobe signing with them.  Why not?  Well, first of all, there are about a million other possibilities between now and free agency in 2009, so building your entire plan around that remote possibility seems pretty desperate.  He could get traded; or he could get happy and play out the last two years on his contract; or 999,998 other things could happen.  But even if he were to choose free agency in 2009, you have to remember why - he'd be looking to compete for a title.  It's the absence of said competitiveness that caused him to go all loopy this summer in the first place.  So whereas it would be relatively simple for the Clippers to clear enough cap space to put a max offer for Kobe on the table, they'd have to let Elton Brand walk to do so.  Think Kobe would want to join the Clippers with Chris Kaman as the other pillar of the team?  So as long as Clipper management thinks the situation all the way through, there's little chance that they'll seriously entertain any Kobe free agency dreams.

Which is a good thing for yours truly.  I'm kind of starting to enjoy this whole blogging thing, and have even sold a few advertisements.  It's hard to imagine how I would continue a Clippers blog if Kobe were on the team.  After all, I'm the guy who taught my 2 year old to say "Kobe's a punk."

At the same time, the thought of the Lakers deprived of that Kobe-level talent is heartening to ClipsNation.  The next best thing to Clipper-happiness is Laker-misery.  So it's still funny to imagine, where might the Mamba end up?  

If the path is pure free agency, his options would be limited, but one stands out.  As with the Clippers angle, the problem with free agency is that most any team with enough room under the cap to make a run at a max player (one with over 10 years experience in this case) is not going to be a very good team.  The one exception on the horizon is Portland.  Imagine free agent Kobe signing with the Trailblazers and playing along side Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and all those other talented youngsters.  It could be pretty amazing.  Kobe, at 31 and a 12 year vet, would be the undisputed leader of the team, which is clearly going to be a big concern for him.  And the talent level would certainly be ring-level, assuming Oden comes back strong from his surgery next year.  So it would not surprise me at all if he ended up in Portland.

Beyond that, you're looking at trades (or possibly a sign-and-trade if he makes it to 2009).  The only way a team puts an established star making top dollar with one or more other established stars making top dollar is my mortgaging the future, and going way over the cap (see Celtics, Boston).  The advantage (to Kobe at least) is that he theoretically gets to a team that can play for a title.  The disadvantages are (a) he wouldn't necessarily be 'the man' and (b) it's far from clear that Kobe would fit well with another NBA superstar.    

Might the Clippers fit into some future sign and trade scenario?  Unlikely.  The Lakers situation would have to devolve into a pretty desperate fire sale in order for the Clippers to be able to offer the Lakers anything of interest and still keep Elton Brand (which is a requirement in order for Kobe to be interested, I'm assuming).  The Clippers just don't have a lot of tradeable assets right now, apart from draft picks (which could be pretty high at least next year, I'm sad to say).  Besides, if Jerry Buss were actually reduced to trading Kobe, it seems impossible to imagine he'd leave him in the same division, much less the same building!  

It all makes you wonder if Kobe is not kicking himself for eschewing the Clippers' offer back in 2004.  If competing for a title is all that matters to him, surely he now sees that playing next to Elton Brand, Chris Kaman and Corey Maggette would have been preferable to playing next to Lamar Odom and...  well... and... and... some other guys wearing uniforms.  And let's face it, if Kobe is regretting not being a Clipper, then my work here is done.