Kobe isn’t in denial, nor will he give one
Da Prodigal Laker’s in Da House!
Here’s the bottom line on Kobe Bryant’s charges that Jerry Buss was “an idiot” who “lied” about trying to win and pursued a secret rebuilding program while the Lakers organization “let me be crucified” for trading Shaquille O’Neal:
“I was frustrated,” said Bryant, the prodigal Laker returning to the fold once more Monday. “I blew up. . . .
“I think the important thing for everybody to understand is, I want to bring a title back to L.A.”
Amazingly enough, he means it. Of course, there are more important things for everybody to understand, starting with:
Bryant also meant every word he said last spring, except for the retractions.
Monday didn’t mark a massive change of heart. For better and worse, as it always is with Bryant, he’s back to play the hand he has been dealt this season.
As The Times’ former columnist, J.A. Adande, noted, there’s no chance Kobe will mope around as Vince Carter did in Toronto when he forced the Raptors to trade him.
Kobe doesn’t do half-hearted, which is what makes him so special if he’s with you and such a nightmare if he’s not.
Here’s another important thing to understand:
He now realizes his chances of winning a title here are remote to nonexistent.
After three years of denial following O’Neal’s departure, that imp popped out of the bottle and there’s no putting it back. This is a problem since Bryant runs on zeal.
Not since he was a 6-foot-4, 150-pound Lower Merion High sophomore coming off a 5-20 freshman season has he gone into a season thinking he had no shot.
When the Lakers started over without O’Neal, Bryant knew they wouldn’t prance right back into the winner’s circle but he thought it would come soon enough.
Despite all signs to the contrary -- like a 34-48 finish and Coach Rudy Tomjanovich fleeing -- Bryant remained adamant, saying behind the scenes, “What are they going to say when I win five titles with this team?”
The problem turned out to be: What was he going to say when he didn’t?
A year later in a first-person piece for Dime magazine, Bryant called the thought that he had won his last title at 23 “my biggest fear.”
A year after that came last spring’s meltdown. That wasn’t just “frustration” but sheer terror at finding himself trapped in the West, the Land of Giants, prompting his desperate attempt to flee to the East, the NBA’s Lilliput.
Unfortunately for Bryant, the Lakers’ position was, if they had to stay, so did he.
Happily for the Lakers, Bryant’s zeal extends to the game with a dedication that awed his U.S. teammates this summer in Las Vegas. He may approach the game in his own monomaniacal style but he has never, ever cheated it.
So with no options, he did a constructive flip-flop as only he could, answering all the hard questions Monday with his old trademark poise and sincerity.
He even meant what he said, even if those weren’t his only thoughts on the subject.
Not that we haven’t seen this before.
In 2005 with Phil Jackson back after fingering him for the Lakers breakup in his book, Bryant gave a veritable sermon on media day (“You forgive and move on. We’re all human beings. Who am I to sit up here and judge somebody?”)
I went to see him later to see where he really was and what it meant for our relationship, which had been close until the season before when I wrote a story that angered him.
“Why do you want to know what I think now?” he said, no longer sounding pastoral. “You didn’t care what I thought then.”
Whether or not Bryant had actually forgiven Jackson at that point -- Phil said later he was still “wary” -- Kobe was coolly and totally professional.
Nor was it something Bryant played at. He and Jackson soon struck up a new relationship and have been close since.
This fall, professionalism meant making up with Andrew Bynum after being recorded, railing at management’s decision not to trade the young center for Jason Kidd.
“Andrew and I didn’t talk but we texted each other,” said Bryant. “That kid, he’s 17 years old [19, actually], I don’t think he knows how to answer a phone. He texts.
“I was in Rome and I texted him and he hollered back. I just let him know I was sorry how that stuff came out.”
And the things Bryant said about Buss?
“Well, from what I understand about Jerry, from the stuff that people have been telling me, is that he has kind of been out of the loop for the last two years,” said Bryant.
“My understanding is that he’s . . . going to be back in the mix now.”
Buss will have to decide whether that gets a check or not.
It could be like O’Neal yelling “Pay me!” at him in his last Lakers exhibition season, which Buss laughed off at the time.
After all that season’s horrors, Buss was ready to bring everyone back when they made the 2004 Finals. Instead, Detroit rocked their world and Buss backed up the truck.
The season always decides. At least, the Lakers are guaranteed one more with Kobe Bryant, they learned Monday.