Lakers can only wish on their star
And so it’s time to put another season to bed.
Who cares if no one watches the games? The NBA just got a raise to $930 million annually from its TV partners -- almost twice what baseball gets -- presumably on sheer notoriety.
The NBA is about stars, and, as Kobe Bryant keeps demonstrating, games are incidental. The Kobe Watch is eternal and, for the Lakers, heading further south daily.
Last week they thought they were close to getting Kevin Garnett, saw that fall apart, heard he might go to Phoenix and, after weathering that scare, heard he might go to Golden State.
Garnett in Oakland is an even worse nightmare for the Lakers. The Suns were already above them. With KG, the Warriors would be too.
The Warriors jumped in with both feet on draft day, trading popular Jason Richardson to Charlotte for young Brandan Wright, whom they hadn’t even worked out.
With Minnesota seeking prospects, the Warriors are now offering Wright, Monta Ellis and Patrick O’Bryant.
Minnesota is asking for Andris Biedrins. Golden State is offering Al Harrington instead and may also insist that Garnett waive his $6.5-million trade kicker, so it’s not done yet.
For the Lakers, or as they’re known these days, Ground Zero, that’s what passes for consolation.
Happily, Bryant has signaled that he’ll knock off his daily barrage for a low-key approach of glowering from afar.
On July 20, he’ll face the media at USA Basketball’s camp in Las Vegas, where he’ll presumably explain he’s frustrated but hopes to remain a Laker.
Of course, he’ll give someone from ESPN that exclusive beforehand. There’s now crazed maneuvering going on among the network’s staffers to be the lucky conduit.
As for the craziness -- such as the day Bryant told Stephen A. Smith and Dan Patrick he wanted to be traded on back-to-back shows, assured XTRA listeners he wanted to stay in an emotional scene with Vic the Brick, then repeated his trade demand to The Times’ Mike Bresnahan -- Bryant will blame that on the media.
Being Kobe Bryant means never having to say you’re sorry, even if he said Jerry Buss -- who never offered him a dollar less than the maximum, favored him above all others and always took sole responsibility for trading Shaquille O’Neal -- lied to him and is an idiot.
All Bryant has to do is plead temporary insanity ... say, for the last four years ... come back and play at his usual level and all will be forgiven.
Then, barring a miracle, he’ll demand to be traded again -- ideally for all concerned, more discreetly -- and that will be a wrap on the 12-year Kobe Saga, locally.
The Lakers have no choice but to try to win him back but can’t have any illusions about pleasing him. They could get Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, Jason Kidd, or all three, but the proof will still be on the court.
Forget getting out of the first round. They have to make the Western Conference finals to win Bryant back, and their best chance of getting that far is prayer.
Whatever happens, they have a season to pull it together, and, as Phil Jackson noted, amazing things happen. A year ago, everyone thought the Spurs were creaky has-beens and no one thought about the Jazz at all.
With Andrew Bynum showing up daily to work out, impressing skeptics among the Lakers, they’re now considering the possibility that their best move may be no move.
I don’t care if Bryant does a feature-length movie in which he curses Bynum’s name and offers to carry him piggyback to New Jersey to get Kidd. It’s not impossible to imagine Bynum at 14 points and nine rebounds and the Lakers at, say, 48 wins.
That might not do it, but if Bryant leaves -- which is the way to bet in any case -- they’ll at least have a young 7-footer.
Of course, if Bryant goes to the East -- how about New York! -- the league office will praise his name.
Until then, this league still has a little problem.
Let’s say Garnett becomes a Warrior, and David Stern still refuses to reseed any portion of the playoffs.
It can’t get any worse than the San Antonio-Cleveland mismatch. Nevertheless, my heart doesn’t beat faster at the thought of a showdown between the Spurs, Mavericks, Suns, Jazz or Warriors and the plucky Chicago Bulls.
Stern’s continuing denial preserves the East as the NBA’s kiddies pool. Eyeing the other tykes, the Chicago Tribune’s Sam Smith advised the Bulls to stand pat with their Mini-Me front line of 6-7 Ben Wallace, 6-7 Tyrus Thomas and 6-8 Luol Deng, rather than pursue Garnett.
“It probably will take another miserable, one-sided Finals or two for [Stern] to finally acknowledge the obvious and change the format of the postseason tournament,” Smith wrote. “So why not be patient instead of breaking up what you have?”
Of course, with Bryant’s exquisite timing, I expect him to go East
I hate to get on Bryant day after day because it has really been a privilege to watch him. He’s not even a bad guy, although he is an imperious one.
However, we’re a long way from the first-person piece in Dime Magazine in early 2006 when he wrote, “I am determined to lead this organization back to the top. The people who once celebrated me are the same people who doubt me now. They say I don’t have Shaq, that I can’t win, that it’s over.”
One thing I never doubt about Bryant is his sincerity. Now to see which organization he has in mind.