Special thanks to Justin Page for writing this take and giving us the privilege to add it to TheLakersNation.com. Again, if you write anything Lakers related and you think that it deserves to be put TLN please e-mail us at articles@TheLakersNation.com.
Kobe Bryant is a lot of things; competitive, determined, passionate, hardworking, mentally tough, and he plays with the heart of a lion. He’s also immature, dramatic, arrogant, selfish, and lacks loyalty; just to name a few. But most importantly, he’s the Lakers best chance to win a championship.
There were a ton of questions heading into the 2007-2008 season, but Kobe has already answered the biggest on-court question surrounding him. Will he put his heart and soul into this team? He has answered that with a definitive yes.
Now the ball is in owner Jerry Buss’ court. Will Kobe remain a Laker? And for how long? A lot of things factor into how Buss is feeling right now, but make no mistake about it; Jerry Buss is hurt by his star player’s comments this past off-season. Buss has stuck by Bryant through the hardest of times on the court (problems with Shaquille O’Neal) and off the court (legal problems in Colorado), and he’s paying him over $19 million this year, so he has every right to feel betrayed by a son-like figure who he has supported for the past 12 years.
Fortunately this isn’t Match.com or E-Harmony; this is basketball. And the owner and star player don’t have to be on good terms in order to win basketball games.
That is why the Lakers need to come out and say they won’t be trading Kobe Bryant. Not now, not ever. And if that’s a little white lie and they still want to listen to offers as it nears the date of his 2009 opt-out clause, that’s fine, just do it behind closed doors.
Of course this strategy involves risk. What if Kobe opts-out in 2009 and the Lakers get nothing in return for him? The following is an excerpt from what ESPN’s Chris Broussard had to say about this particular topic. He points out that Kobe leaving without the Lakers getting anything in return might not be the worst scenario in the world…
“It’s not like a lot of teams will have the cap room to sign Kobe for $20 million plus per year, certainly not many good teams that are ready to compete for a championship.
Obviously, he’s a great talent, but rather than get chumped in a sign-and-trade deal, why not just let his $21 million roll off their payroll? Lamar Odom’s contract will end that year as well, giving the Lakers plenty of cap room to work with.
Remember, LeBron will be able to opt-out of his deal the year after that in 2010. If Cleveland can’t put the right pieces around him, who’s to say LeBron won’t be ready to go rejuvenate the Lakers.”
We all know that Buss is an avid poker player, so my message to Buss is to stop all of this non-sense and go “all-in.” And if Bryant comes out and says he’ll enact his opt-out clause, then call him on it (not literally Jerry, keep your mouth shut please).
Two years from now is long time in basketball years, and there are a ton of unknowns: Will Kobe at 31 years-old really want to start all over with a new team? Will the young Lakers be a contender? Will Andrew Bynum mature into a consistent, powerful player? And I would think the Lakers would make a splash in the free-agent market in one of the next two years (Jermaine O’Neal and Gilbert Arenas might be pipe dreams at this point, but both have said they will opt-out after this season).
Buss went all-in with Kobe when he was a free agent back in 2004. It’s time to do it again.
(Author’s Note: ESPN’s Ric Bucher was tapping me incessantly on the shoulder while I was writing this article, repeating over and over “Kobe wants out, Kobe wants out, Kobe wants out.”)