Kobe Bryant (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)LA Daily News: You couldn’t blame Kobe Bryant if he’d opted to take the safe road this time. It would’ve been easy, perhaps even professionally prudent, to keep saying all the right things and falling in behind the Lakers’ company line.

After all, the last time Bryant stepped outside the cautious “I’m just a basketball player, I don’t worry about those kinds of decisions” box, he was widely ridiculed as the Yoko Ono of the Shaq-Kobe-Phil Era Lakers.

It took him at least two years to distance himself from that image.

Some would say he’ll always carry it around his neck. But if Bryant is really going to be the leader of the Lakers’ franchise, he had to speak up, it had to be now, and it had to be loud.

“It’s one thing to lead when everything is going right; it’s another thing when you’ve got adversity and you’re struggling,” Bryant said.

“That’s when you’re really tested as a leader. You have to try to keep the ship going.”

All season, he tried to be a team guy. He held his tongue for the most part, applauded his teammates when they performed well and stayed positive even when there was little reason for optimism.

That’s one form of leadership.

The next form gets a little more complicated. It’s about sticking your neck out, saying something that might not go down well with your bosses, but nonetheless, something that needed to be said.Only superstars can say these things. And they only get a few chances over the course of their careers to do it.

No one cares if a role player speaks up. Their words don’t carry enough weight. And few ever do because role players who try to speak like superstars quickly get cast as whiny and cancerous.

It can be a slippery slope for superstars, too. Overplay your hand and you go from superstar to super-brat in onesound bite. Make noise too often and you’re told to look in the mirror. Speak up on the wrong issue, or out of selfish motivations, and you’re the next T.O.

Magic Johnson did it in 1981-82 when he pulled a “him-or-me” with coach Paul Westhead, who had forced a slow-down offense on the Lakers.

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    Kobe needs help now! Without help he’ll go down as just another Ernie Banks type. I know he’s already been a part of championship teams but it’s almost as if they didn’t happen because of Kobe’s desire to prove he is as great as he really is and win a championship on his own without the “loud mouth BULLY from Miami!” The fact that Kobe will go down as one the best of all time just isn’t good enough for him. He needs a ring and he may need more than one…he’s that great! I can see how he will except nothing less from himself or from his team…no matter what team that may be. If the Lakers don’t improve now then a lot of hearts will be broken having to see Kobe Bryant in another team’s uniform…here’s an idea…GET RID OF MITCH!!! BRING BACK THE NBA SYMBOL!!!