That's the question, not whether Kobe Bryant "tanked" a game the Lakers trailed by 15 points at halftime and by 21 when he took his first shot in the third quarter after the Suns scored on six of their first seven possessions.
On the other hand, it's hardly tanking if he scores 23 points in the first half and pulls back at the direction of his coach, as Phil Jackson insisted again last week.
"Kobe went out with the game plan in mind," Jackson wrote in an e-mail. "Get the ball inside! Kwame [Brown] couldn't get anything to fall for him . L.O. [Lamar Odom] the same. [Steve] Nash had banged his knee the first half and we went at him but Smush [Parker] couldn't score.
"Now we're 20 down and I put in [Brian] Cook to get the screen-roll game going and they doubled Kobe and left Cook open
"He [Bryant] finally tried to bust through the defense and got called for a charge and committed a turnover. So there you go. We're down by 25 points and things have slipped away."
Unfortunately for all concerned, whether or not Bryant was trying to make the point, it's not only valid but inescapable.
The Lakers need a lot of help, which they're not likely to get soon whether or not they keep to their 2008 salary cap strategy, which is already Plan B after 2007 free agents Yao Ming and Amare Stoudemire signed extensions.
The question isn't whether they can trust Bryant, who's assuredly as foibled as he is great, but whether they can keep him.
If you think the last two seasons were rough, come back after he leaves to see what Staples Center looks like with 5,000 empty seats. All of the Lakers' hopes depend on Bryant's riding along for two more seasons, but for Kobe, that's a long time.
At midseason he was asked whether he could last until 2008 if that was what it took. His answer was Basic Kobe: It wouldn't.
"We're not that far away, one piece, two pieces maybe," he said. "The vision that we have for the team may be a little different than the direction other people see us going in."
The events of Game 7 suggest how devastated he was after they took that 3-1 lead, which seemed to open a path to the Western Conference finals without leaving home if they could beat the Clippers, only to have it taken away.
Bryant, who had always been gracious in defeat, didn't congratulate any Suns. His teammates slinked off too, reportedly at his direction.
Bryant being the lightning rod of our time, the usual firestorm ensued. Charles Barkley ripped him as "selfish" and later said Bryant sent him 20 text messages in protest. The Times' T.J. Simers wrote that Bryant "tanked," adding, "Amazingly, the media in L.A. gave Bryant nothing but a free ride."
I was part of the L.A. media, not that I'm complaining, having zinged enough writers in my time. We're fair game as much as Frank McCourt, Devean George or the Grocery Store Bagger, whoever that is.
Bryant's fade was curious, and he might have been angrier than he would acknowledge, but, even assuming it was more out of pique than duty, it didn't compare to the most famous disappearances.
The 76ers' Wilt Chamberlain took two shots in the second half of Philadelphia's 100-96 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 1968 Eastern finals, resulting in community-wide outrage and Wilt's demand to be traded that sent him to the Lakers.