Steve Kerr: Has Kobe gone too far?
It's never easy to see Kobe Bryant's side in these things, in part because there is always a thing with this guy. It seems everything ends in a contentious point as he polarizes fans and pulverizes relationships.
So now he is asking for a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers, telling ESPN Radio, "I would like to be traded, yeah. Tough as it is to come to that conclusion there's no other alternative, you know?"
There never is an alternative with Bryant, who always seems to be making his own bed and then complaining about it. The current plight of the Lakers is no different. He's no innocent victim here.
But here is the issue with Kobe: As bad as he is at making these demands, as poorly as he always comes across and as skeptical as he makes everyone, what is the alternative?
Bryant hasn't said anything in the last few days that every Lakers fan hasn't said 100 times. He's wished Jerry West was still running things, he's wondered what Mitch Kupchak is doing, and he's begged for a better supporting cast so his prime and this golden franchise don't waste away in mediocrity.
For three years since re-signing with the Lakers, Bryant was the good solider, watching as the front office made bad trades, questionable draft picks and engaged in soap opera behavior.
This franchise is a disaster: from owner Jerry Buss drunk-driving 23-year-old women around, to installing his children in leadership positions, to everyone pretending the Lakers are still the Lakers.
They aren't. They are a bad team with one megastar.
Bryant may be an uneven personality, a time bomb at times. But he isn't alone at Staples Center.
Wednesday, he seemed particularly incensed that a Los Angeles Times story quoted an unnamed Lakers "insider," saying "it was Bryant's insistence on getting away from Shaquille O'Neal that got them in this mess."
On his Web site, kb24.com, Bryant responded.
"The real facts are that Dr. Buss requested a meeting with me during the 04 season long before I opted out of my contract, and he told me he had already decided to not extend Shaq, as he was concerned about Shaq's age, fitness and contract demands," Bryant wrote. "Dr. Buss thought it was best for the Lakers to make a trade to get value for Shaq while they could.
"Dr. Buss made it clear that his decision was final, his mind was made up and no matter what I decided to do with free agency he was still going to move Shaq."
Bryant may be correct – and Shaq has said he believes Kobe "100 percent" – but this seems more like semantics. Yes, it was definitely Buss' decision, but if Bryant didn't make the Lakers think that re-signing Shaq would cause Bryant to flee as a free agent, he certainly didn't push to have Shaq stay.
It is difficult to imagine, as Bryant contends, that had he told Buss he'd leave if O'Neal wasn't re-signed, that Shaq wouldn't still be in L.A. The Lakers weren't going to risk losing both of them.
Kobe thought he could lead the Lakers to another title sans Shaq and have his legend fully established. He guessed wrong. O'Neal, even in a diminished capacity, is a devastating force and went on to get the Miami Heat and an appreciative Dwyane Wade a championship a year ago.
Look, Bryant isn't handling this well. The franchise has been loyal to him, too, particularly through his off-court issues in Colorado. He'd be far more successful trying to get changes made through private meetings and not radio interviews and open website letters.
But, then again, what is the alternative?
If you're Bryant, with three NBA titles and an unquestioned competitive desire, do you continue to trust this management team will get you the supporting cast to at least contend in the ever improving West?
At 28 years old, Bryant is the most talented basketball player in the world and he is on a team with no foreseeable chance to win much of anything.
When he decided to re-sign with the Lakers, rather than join the Los Angeles Clippers or the Chicago Bulls, either he misunderstood or was misled about the team's intentions. Or the Lakers, perhaps, were honest about their desire to rebuild but incapable of pulling it off.
According to Kobe’s Web site account:
"When I was a free agent Dr. Buss called me from his vacation in Italy on the eve of my decision and promised me that the Lakers would do everything to build a contender NOW.
"I told him at that time that my fear was the Lakers waiting to save Cap Room to sign a top notch free agent in 3 or 4 years, so that was why I was leaning towards other teams like the Clips and Bulls, both of who had a cast of good young players.
"But Dr. Buss promised me he would rebuild right away, and I believed him. That is why I put my trust in the Lakers."
But then the Lakers went out and, with a lottery pick, drafted an 18-year-old project in Andrew Bynum. They traded away Caron Butler and didn't aggressively pursue players such as Carlos Boozer, Ron Artest or Allen Iverson.
So here is Kobe, stuck on a bad team, feeling lied to and seeing, like so many Lakers fans, no "alternative."
Is he overreacting? Is he blowing up another relationship? Is this just another petulant pout about a situation he helped create? Yeah, maybe.
But at this point, with this front office, with this roster, with his desire to win, maybe you can't blame him.