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I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

I don't take a newspaper.  Haven't for years.  Since I sit at my computer all day long and all of the information is available when and how I want it, it would be pretty silly to read the same stuff later on dead trees.  That said, I do enjoy the feel of a newspaper in my hand - I'd much rather read from the paper than from the screen.  And I don't really like taking the laptop into the bathroom with me.  So I'm always happy to read the paper at friends' houses, or to steal a sports page from the local Peet's Coffee.  

One thing you definitely miss getting your news from the interwebs is placement.  You bookmark the LA Times' Clippers coverage, you get to it every time, regardless of where it is in the actual paper.  Of course as Clipper fans, this is significant.  The Lakers are front page, above the fold, every day of the season.  The Clippers were re-relegated to the interior of the paper long before the All-Star break this year, despite being the team that was playing into May 2006.  This is just the reality of LA sports - the Angels had to win the World Series before they broke through.  

Having said all that, I was at my parents' house for the long weekend, and I was shocked - SHOCKED - to see Kobe stories on the front page of the Times' Sports section Sunday and Monday.  (I stopped seeing the paper after that, but obviously he's still there.  In fact, today, he's again on the front page - not the front page of the sports section, the FRONT PAGE!  And of course every single solitary columnist has weighed in as well.)  Not that it's not a decent sized sports story, that Kobe has been saying what he's been saying.  I'll admit that asking for a trade is newsworthy, even if whining that 'Changes need to be made' is not.  But as I read the story on Saturday, I just kept wondering, 'What is he thinking?'  I mean, why is he giving quotes to Mike Bresnahan in friggin' May?  And what good can POSSIBLY come from telling a reporter that you want Jerry West?  And it's just gotten more bizarre from there.

The implication at first was that Kobe was frustrated by the lack of changes.  As if spring was prime time for blockbuster trades.  A quarter of the teams were still playing, and half the league was waiting to find out if they would get a franchise player in the draft.  Who was going to make a deal then?  No one is doing ANYTHING until we get much closer to the draft, and everybody knows that, including Kobe.  So what does he have to be frustrated about?

The latest chapter of Kobe and the Lakers reminds me a lot of the apparent national tragedy that is the Boston Celtics not winning the lottery.  In each case, an iconic franchise fallen on hard times wants to return to former glory; to be relevant.  Well guess what?  Lots of franchises want to be relevant.  Just wanting it doesn't make it happen.  And not getting it (not winning the lottery when, by the way, the odds weren't really all that stacked anyway, not making a trade when there are no trades to be made) is not particularly noteworthy.  Bill Simmons argued recently that it really is different for the fans of formerly dynastic teams -

Long-suffering fans of perennial losers don't know what they're missing. After all, how would they know? You can't miss steak if you've never eaten steak, right?

...But let's face it - all fans want their team to win a title, and 29 sets of them are disappointed every season.  The arrogance of Celtics' fans to think that somehow we should care more about their misery than we do about say the misery of the Grizzlies, is just astounding.  The fact that they tanked down the stretch in order to get those extra ping pong balls, and then want us to feel sorry for them that their ping pong balls didn't come up, represents a special kind of arrogance.

But in the sport of arrogance, Kobe Bryant is a first ballot hall-of-famer.  Here's a guy who held the Lakers hostage until they sent Shaq paq-ing, and now he's complaining that the team's not any good.  It's akin to Yoko complaining to John that his songs just aren't as catchy as they used to be.  Of course, he's got a shoulder to cry on in the local and national media.  Prior to this latest soap opera, the "Kobe needs help" chorus had already reached a crescendo.  To listen to Jim Gray and Stephen A. Smith and others you'd think Kobe's situation was the greatest injustice since Hurricane Katrina.  I was expecting a 'We are the World' type benefit recording featuring Bono and Sting.  

Kobe needs help,
We are the Lakers,
Kobe's supposed to always win a ring, so trade for All-Stars.

There's a choice we're making,
We're saving Kobe's rep,
It's time to make a better team now Mitch and Jer'

You know, Kobe's actually won three championships already, and he helped send the guy most responsible for those titles to Miami.  Maybe we should be more concerned about Jason Kidd and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and Steve Nash and myriad others - great players significantly older than Kobe who've never won a single ring, and who've shown nothing but class and loyalty throughout their careers.

Apparently the thing that REALLY set Kobe off was this line from Mark Heisler's LAT piece on Tuesday:  "Nevertheless, as a Lakers insider notes, it was Bryant's insistence on getting away from Shaquille O'Neal that got them in this mess."  After that, Kobe went from saying stupid but ultimately meaningless things like "Changes need to be made now" and "Bring Jerry West back" to making trade demands - that's a big step.  Kobe insists on his website that the whole Shaq thing was Jerry Buss' idea and he had absolutely nothing to do with it.  

The real facts are that Dr. Buss requested a meeting with me during the 04 season long before I opted out of my contract, and he told me he had already decided to not extend Shaq, as he was concerned about Shaq's age, fitness and contract demands. Dr. Buss thought it was best for the Lakers to make a trade to get value for Shaq while they could.

Oh, well that explains it, Kob'.  I guess you really didn't have anything to do with it, after all.  Still, I wonder why the owner of the team went to all that trouble to inform you of all this?  Did he tell all the other members of the Lakers about how fat and lazy and old and greedy Shaq was?  Is it possible that he thought it would make you happy, and convince you to stay?  Oh, and another thing - if you really are all about winning, and if you had no problem with Shaq, why didn't you tell your pal Jerry to keep the man?  You may not have been driving the Buss, but Shaq was under it, and you made it clear you wanted him there.  And getting upset about a quote from an 'Insider' is petulance beyond belief.  Everybody knows it - the fact that you don't want anyone to SAY it doesn't change the reality.  What a diva.  "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Buss."

Lost in all of this is the reality of life in the NBA.  It's pretty hard to accuse the Lakers of not TRYING to win.  They just haven't succeeded.  It's impossible to imagine getting MORE for Shaq than they netted in that trade - Lamar Odom has played terrifically well when he's been healthy, Caron Butler is now an All-Star, and Jordan Farmar was starting at point guard in the playoffs.  You want trades?  Well, how about a former number one overall pick?  Of course, you have to give up something to get something, and Caron Butler for Kwame Brown worked out great - for the Wizards.  You want free agents?  Well, there's this thing called the salary cap, and if you're over it, your options are limited.  VladRad and his ilk are the kinds of players you're able to get.  It's not that they Lakers haven't TRIED to get better these last three years - they've just failed to get better.

Don't get me wrong - I think Kupchak has done a pretty lousy job recently.  But he's in a pretty lousy situation, and Kobe 'got them in this mess' (ooh, I said it - hope he doesn't get mad at me.)  

The other delicious irony is that Kobe Bryant is arguably the worst teammate in the NBA.  There are very few great players who would be effective playing with him, and fewer still who would want to.  Apparently Kobe was upset that the Lakers didn't make a play for Baron Davis.  Kobe Bryant and Baron Davis?  Really?  They do still play games with just the one basketball, right?  If you want to put a superstar with Kobe, he has to be (1) a great post player (oops, he's in South Beach), (2) a great defender and rebounder and/or (3) completely unselfish.  There aren't a lot of those.  And by the way, Lamar Odom meets most of the criteria pretty well, and we're constantly hearing about how Lamar's game doesn't mesh well with Kobe's.  Excuse me?  I mean, if Lamar can't play with Kobe, then exactly who can?  

As for Kobe trade possibilities, don't waste your time.  If I was playing Oddsmakers on PTI, the chances that Kobe is traded this offseason are squadooch.  The next two seasons are guaranteed, there's a trade kicker in the contract, and the Lakers simply aren't going to trade him now.  I mean, what's he going to do?  Sit out two seasons?  Mail it in?  He's Kobe Bryant - if you put him on the court, he's going to try to score a million points every game.  Maybe he'll be less inclined to run the offense or less inclined to play defense or less inclined to listen to the coa...  never mind.  It won't make any difference.  And he's sure not going to do ANYTHING that might diminish his value as a free agent if he were to opt out in two seasons.  Vince Carter is a 30-year-old potential free agent come July 1 - think anyone is lining up to pay him max money for max years?  How much did he cost himself by 'not always trying' in Toronto?  Kobe won't risk that.   He likes the money.  Even the fear of losing him and getting nothing in return is overblown.  If indeed he bolts in 2009, the Lakers get something very tangible in return - they get under the cap.

So the soap opera ain't over yet.  Kobe's around for at least another year, and probably more.  The Lakers being the Lakers, they may actually be able to salvage this thing.  The city is a big draw; the legacy is too.  Problem children like Ron Artest and Bonzi Wells can be had on the cheap, and the Lakers are now more willing to be taking those sorts of chances.  Jermaine O'Neal wants out of Indian-no-place; KG may eventually have to leave Minnea-no-place.  And Bresnahan's talk about Kwame Brown's trade value being diminished by his ankle surgery are just naïve - Kwame Brown's trade value is EXACTLY $9,075,000 in a contract that expires next summer.   But obviously teams are going to want value (over and above Brown's expiring deal) in return, so Bynum has to be in any trade.  

When the Lakers sucked in the mid-70's, they traded for Kareem (giving up such luminaries as Elmore Smith and Junior Bridgeman).  When they sucked in the mid-90's, they signed Shaq and traded Vlade Divac for an 18-year-old Kobe.  Things have a way of happening for the Lakers.  (Cue X-files music.)  And in the meantime, Kobe will continue to be front-page news.