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Old 06-21-2007, 03:26 PM   #1
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Lightbulb Lakers Hold The Cards On Kobe Bryant -- For Now

Despite another crazy week, they have no intentions of trading their superstar and beginning the rebuilding process.
June 21 2007

Whether Kobe Bryant made the world crazy or the other way around, the process is ongoing, as the last week proved.

This is how it went:

An item that had been regularly re-posted under new dates on Bryant's website was moved on the wire services as if it was a new trade demand, starting a week-long feeding frenzy.

Meanwhile, Bryant, laying low finally but still doing everything short of threatening to hold his breath, continued to try to force the Lakers to trade him.

ESPN's Ric Bucher said the Lakers approached Bryant through back channels, asking if there was a "possibility of rebuilding the bridges and somehow having [him] come back and play for them again next season" but the answer was "a resounding no."

In a classic case of ESPN's shotgun approach, in which it gets two stories by discounting its own report, "SportsCenter" teased a Bryant segment "Why our insiders think the deal with Chicago is nothing but bull" while a Chad Ford story on its website offered scenarios for Chicago deals.

In the real world, which is increasingly divorced from the one in the media, the story has never changed:

Bryant isn't going anywhere. The Lakers aren't talking to Chicago or anyone else.

Not that the Lakers aren't upset (note to Kobe: if you're looking for more reasons to leave, here's another one) but they're not remotely inclined to trade him.

Despite suggestions they're losing leverage, two years from Bryant's opt-out clause in his contract, they have it all.

In a year, the leverage will shift to Bryant but in the meantime, there's no reason for the Lakers to hold their fire sale early.

The Lakers have two options: 1) Trade Bryant and start over; 2) Hope to have a great season that persuades him to stay. Otherwise, trade him and start over.

Since starting over is too depressing to think about, what do the Lakers have to lose by putting it off a year to see if they can dodge this cannonball?

Of course, there will have to be a memorable news conference first in which Bryant apologizes to all concerned and/or blames it on the press.

Talks with Indiana continue about Jermaine O'Neal, the problem being that the Pacers want Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, which the Lakers insist they won't do.

Ironically, before Bryant began saying Jerry Buss "lied" to him and launched a secret long-term rebuilding project, Buss had already signed off on trading Bynum or anyone else they had to.

A month ago, there was a good argument to trade anyone to get Bryant immediate help but that was with Kobe on board with what they were doing.

Now, with a growing likelihood they'll lose Bryant in a year, the Lakers had better think twice about trading Bynum.

In the week's capper, two local fans, discovering their Inner Slime-ball, posted part of a video they shot of Bryant raging about Bynum on YouTube.

Concealing their identities, the self-titled "Kobe Video Guys" had first offered to sell it to the Lakers, according to a team official, saying they would release it to the press otherwise coming uncomfortably close to extortion.

Turned down, they then offered it to various media outlets, including The Times, noting in one e-mail:

"This video is GOLD. We were offered up to 10K for it last week by ABC, which was going to run it on ESPN."

After three weeks of rejections, the "Kobe Video Guys" finally played it on a laptop for's Arash Markazi in a meeting in Westwood.

"Andrew Bynum?" says Bryant in the video, according to Markazi's story. "What the ...? Are you kidding me? Andrew Bynum? ship [him] out. Are you kidding me? We're talking about Jason Kidd. But they didn't even want to do that. Now we're here in this position."

It's unclear if Bryant knew he was being taped. One way or another, he set himself up, since it wasn't an isolated incident.

On May 31, Steve Shwam of Huntington Beach e-mailed The Times' Mike Bresnahan, describing a conversation with Bryant outside a Newport Beach restaurant.

"As Kobe walked by us leaving the restaurant, we asked him to take a picture with us," wrote Shwam. "He said, 'I can't guys, I've got my daughters with me.'

"But he stopped and put his hand out, almost like he wanted us to talk to him. I shook his hand and said to him, 'I hope you're staying with the Lakers.'

"He replied, 'No way, I am leaving.'

"I then said, 'Are you serious?' [I was] shocked, being that I had received an e-mail [sent to Lakers season ticket-holders] just minutes before our lunch from Jerry Buss, stating that he and Kobe had spoke and everything was fine.

"His response [was] 'Dr. Buss hasn't said nothing to me. Nothing.'

"As he walked away he was mumbling something else but he was for sure displeased. He was super nice to us but for sure showed how upset and clear about Jerry and his 'conversation' went down."

Makes you anxious for opening night, doesn't it?

Next season's slogan: "See Us While We're Still Here."
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