Kobe Bryant has officially asked the Lakers to trade him.
Why? As Terrell Owens' former publicity agent might have said, Kobe has 136 million reasons to be a happy little Laker. But he's not. The gist of it is that Kobe believes that the Lakers (specifically Jerry Buss) lied to him about their long-term plans and are now trying to make him (via a Deep Throat-esque "insider") the scapegoat for the team's woes. Moreover, it has become increasingly clear that the organization is either unwilling or incapable of providing him with championship-caliber teammates. Enough, apparently, is enough.
From Kobe's perspective, the whole saga hinges on making people believe that:
1. He had nothing whatsoever to do with breaking up the team -- exiling Shaq, running off Karl Malone, letting Gary Payton walk -- that made it to the 2004 NBA Finals, and
2. The Lakers promised him during the summer of 2004 that they were in "win now" mode and not "rebuild around Kobe" mode.
Sorry, but I'm not buying it. I mean, it's been three years -- three years!! -- since Jerry Buss hit the Reset button on the Lakers mini-dynasty. Kobe had to have some idea before right now that the team was rebuilding. It's not like he went to bed one night with teammates like Shaq, Malone, Payton, Derek Fisher, and Rick Fox...and then suddenly woke up the next day surrounded by stiffs like Smush Parker and Kwame Brown. How can he be acting so shocked? It's been three years, Kobe. Where've you been?
Kobe's a smart guy. You cannot convince me otherwise. He's not coming to this realization out of the clear blue. Phil Jackson wrote a freaking book about how Kobe couldn't coexist with Shaq, and how the Lakers were ready, willing, and able to mortgage the team's future to hold onto the young superstar, even if it meant dumping the old superstar and the legendary coach. And I don't care what Kobe says, he and his people knew what was written in that book practically the minute it was published. He didn't pick it up just yesterday.
I can't help but feel that Kobe's rewriting history because he's finally realized he can't do it alone. For most of the past three years, I think Kobe honestly believed that all he needed was one or two decent players to back him up. Well, he's finally starting to get it -- one superstar does not a champion make -- and he's freaking out. He's like a woman who's just turned 30 and says to herself, "I thought I'd be married by now. I should be having babies by now. I only have a few productive years left before I'm old and ugly and I can't have babies anymore! OH MY GOD!!"
This isn't just me hating on Kobe, either. It simply makes no logical sense that Kobe didn't see what was going on around him. He's acting like he just slipped on a banana peel. If he'd lost his nut during the Lakers' first Shaq-less year, maybe then I would have believe him. Maybe. But now? No way.
Mind you, Lakers management had there grubby little paws in this mess. As a group, they were like a high-stakes poker player who lost his mind and decided to go all in even though all he had was one ace and a bunch of crap cards. They figured any hand that they dealt would be a winner as long as they had Kobe in it, and Kobe seemed to believe the same thing. Because Kobe's like Mike, right?
People don't truly understand what an ideal situation Jordan had in Chicago. The Bulls didn't start winning titles until Jordan was surrounded by the perfect supporting: veteran players who were hungry to win and willing to work within the system (John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong, Bill Cartright, Steve Kerr, Ron Harber, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, et al.), legitimate all-stars who took the pressure off him and enhanced his game (Pippen, Grant, Rodman), and a coach who was able to keep everybody relatively happy and supremely motivated (Phil Jackson). But those systems are fragile. Look at what happened when Jordan came back to the Bulls in 1995. Until they added Rodman, they were just another really good team...even with Jordan.
And let's take a closer look at the players that Kobe claims the Lakers supposedly failed to land:
Baron Davis: According to Kobe, the Lakers believe that Davis is "injury prone." Uh, Davis is injury prone. Don't let this year's great playoff run fool you. He's missed 98 games over the last four seasons, including 19 this year. His numbers also had been steadily declining until the Warriors hired Don Nelson, who immediately instituted a run-and-gun offense.
Carlos Boozer: In the summer of 2004, Boozer signed a contract with the Jazz worth almost $70 million dollars. The Lakers didn't have that kind of money to throw at Boozer after signing Kobe. And even if they did...would they really have committed that kind of cash to a guy who, at the time, had career averages of 12 points and 8 rebounds per game? I mean, they could have spent a little more and held onto Shaq. Besides, Boozer seems like a no-brainer now, but don't forget that he missed 80 games in his first two seasons with the Jazz and looked like a bust until he broke out this year.
Ron Artest: You're kidding, right?
All in all, it's a bad situation for everybody involved. Can Kobe really force a trade? Would the Lakers actually do it, knowing they'd never get comparable value? And they can forget about cutting a quick and equitable deal, because the whole world knows Kobe has the Lakers over the barrel. Jerry Buss will have very little negotiating power, and Kobe's no-trade agreement ensures that he has the final say over where he goes.
Let the games begin.