Ball Don't Lie - NBA

The sigh out a Chicago player's agent was unmistakably grateful on Thursday afternoon, a voice thrilled to hear that general manager John Paxson declared it is back to basketball for the Bulls.

For now, anyway, the Bulls are out of the running for Kobe Bryant.

"I've never seen reports for any player like there's been for this thing, and I think it was important for John to do that," the agent said. "You can talk until you're blue in the face and say this isn't a distraction, but it's become one for both teams. The players hear everything, and they read everything. That's just the world we live in."

The Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls have been negotiating for weeks, but have been unable to agree on a package that would work for the teams and Bryant, who has a no-trade clause and thus can veto any deal. Few Bulls have been spared speculation, and an opening-night loss to New Jersey on Wednesday seems to have convinced Paxson that he needed to end negotiations.

"There's not a deal to be done," Paxson said. "It's time to put it to rest. … I think today sends a message to our players that nothing's going to be done."

However, Paxson refused to dismiss the possibility that talks could restart near the February trade deadline.

"Who knows?" he said. "The reality is that, right now, it's done."

Now the Lakers need to make a statement too. These aren't the mature veterans of the Shaq-Kobe sagas who could withstand these soap operas and still play winning basketball. This is a young, fragile team that has no chance of success within these 24-hour cycles of All Kobe, All The Time.

Dr. Jerry Buss would be wise to have his GM, Mitch Kupchak, say the same thing Paxson did: For now, anyway, we're done talking to teams about Kobe Bryant. The Lakers either do that and try to salvage the season or cave to Bryant and make a hasty trade. It isn't much of a choice, but Bryant and the Lakers share the blame for creating this mess.

If the Lakers are determined to spiral into disarray, Paxson isn't willing to let his Bulls go there with them.

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