Despite the talk, Bryant’s staying
What part of “No way” don’t you understand?
Someone in the dispute between Kobe Bryant and the Lakers is out of his/their gourd, which is why, four weeks later, it’s still unfolding daily.
Kobe said today the Lakers not only sold him out but are behind global warming and blacked out everyone’s TVs at the end of “The Sopranos” finale.
The Lakers continued to refuse to comment.
Last week, the story even went international with Bryant issuing trade demands from Spain ... before popping up in General Manager Mitch Kupchak’s office Friday ... complete with paparazzi, as the Kobe Video Slimeballs, er Guys, hawked his video rant.
So this might be a good time to figure out who’s nuts, him, them or me.
Bryant is now being discreet, he thinks. He has dropped out of sight and is now demanding the Lakers’ surrender through ESPN’s Ric Bucher, one of the few confidants who have lasted throughout his career.
(Jerry West and ESPN’s Jim Gray are the only others. Present-day confidants like Phil Jackson and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith arrived after early ones, like me, fell out of what Kobe actually called his “circle of trust.”)
Bucher can’t quote Bryant directly, an old habit. Kobe, who had a bunker mentality as an 18-year-old Golden Child, would tell me what was on his mind, as opposed to the pablum he gave out, but didn’t like going on the record.
Nevertheless, the message is loud, clear and broadcast daily on ESPN’s many platforms.
“Kobe Bryant has played his last game in a Laker uniform,” Bucher said Friday. “That, at least, is the message consistently from Kobe’s camp and the one he has sent to the Lakers more than once....
“He doesn’t want to get to October or November where there’s a push that comes to shove and there’s a question of, is he going to be in training camp, is he going to show up for that game one?
“He doesn’t want to get to that, but the Lakers would be well-advised to make a move now and not find out.”
Of course, it would have helped if Bryant let Bucher mention that Kobe had just delivered the message to Kupchak personally and kept ESPN up on the actual story.
Instead, the meeting was reported by The Times’ Mike Bresnahan, whose calls to Bryant are no longer returned.
If Bryant leaves out a detail here and there -- like what country he’s in -- it doesn’t mean that he’s the one taking the reality break.
However, the Lakers have never taken his threats seriously. If owner Jerry Buss, a renowned poker player, understands one thing, it’s trying to buy the hand when you’re holding nothing.
This isn’t something we’ll always have to wonder about. Buss has no intention of trading Bryant, who’s actually up against an earlier deadline -- the July 20 opening of USA Basketball’s training camp in Las Vegas when he’ll have to talk to the media.
In a year, Bryant will have real leverage. Now, two years from his opt-out, the Lakers will out to the end, no matter how bitter, for one reason:
Anything else is not only Looney Tunes but too depressing for them to even contemplate.
They don’t have to call around. They know what they can get for Bryant ... bupkis.
Trading him means starting over. So what if they get Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Thabo Sefolosha and the No. 9 pick from Chicago, which won’t even offer fast-rising Luol Deng, according to a Bulls insider (note to Kobe -- sorry, I can’t stop myself).
That would make the Lakers a playoff team in the East. In the West, they’d win 35 games while Staples emptied out.
The Lakers have one hope left, that they can make changes and do well enough to convince Bryant (and Jackson) to stay.
Otherwise, it’s the new dark ages. Why would they want to hasten that day?
This is only the latest self-inflicted blow to what should have been one of the greatest, instead of one of the most controversial, careers in NBA history.
Whether Lakers fans like it or not, Bryant was entitled to think about himself when he figured out how remote his chance was to win another title with the team.
Luckily for the Lakers, it took him three seasons after Shaquille O’Neal left, or they might be facing him four times a season in a Clippers uniform.
Whatever he owed the Lakers, he repaid many times over, helping them win three titles, making them hundreds of millions of dollars, providing countless thrills in 11 seasons of service that went beyond mere devotion.
Unfortunately and unconscionably, being Kobe, he went off the deep end, saying they lied to him -- Buss had a long-term strategy for three seasons and he just found out? -- throwing people who fought and bled with him every inch of the way under the bus.
Of course, something else may have come up in Friday’s meeting -- Kevin Garnett turning down the trade that would have sent him to Boston in a move that signaled Minnesota’s willingness to entertain offers, at long last.
In any case, teams will be jumping over one another to get their bids in, including the Lakers, who’ll surely offer Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.
Bynum is a rare asset, who would be the consensus No. 3 pick in this draft.
Like GM Kevin McHale, Minnesota owner Glen Taylor, who’ll make this call, doesn’t want to pack Garnett off to play with Kobe, but it’s an offer they’ll have to consider.
So even if it’s a long shot, it isn’t over yet.
It’s definitely late though.