Rehashing Kobe

Kurt —  August 6, 2007

Well, NBA news has slowed down considerably. KG in the East storylines are tapped out, Team USA has yet to start playing a game, what is an NBA writer to do to drum up interest…

Kobe. He’s gone silent. Los Angeles is tired of hearing from him. But maybe that flame can be stoked.

So Ric Bucher said he has heard nothing new from Kobe since the summer rants, so that is the word that stands. Henry Abbot did a more thoughtful riff off of that, comparing Kobe to Pistol Pete. (The difference ultimately being Kobe has rings.) TJ Simers and crew were talking Kobe on the radio this morning because, well, that probably draws more listeners then more Beckham talk.

Despite all the talk around them, the principals in the saga remain quiet.

Maybe that’s because there is nothing to say. Nothing to be gained by spouting off by either Kobe or the Lakers’ front office.

For the Laker brass, Kobe is the guy selling the tickets right now, and trading him to start a rebuilding project this late in the summer would lead to a revolt from season ticket holders who have already paid to watch him play. Not to mention the anger from big-bucks paying sponsors trying to reach those ticket holders. At this point, with two years left on Kobe’s deal, fans want the team to build a winner, not throw in the towel. And Laker brass has said consistently in public he is not on the market right now. What are the Lakers going to say publicly that could seriously smooth the waters?

If he’s not being traded, what are Kobe’s options? He could sit out, but for a guy who has spent the last few years working hard to rebuild his reputation — and his marketing presence — coming off as the ultimate prima donna would be a huge step backwards. Kobe would risk his legacy being about petulance rather than the championships he craves.

He could say he gets injured playing for Team USA and miss most of camp and even some games of the season. But what message does that really send? I’m unhappy so I’m going to sit out for a little but, but ultimately come back to you? Does that strengthen his position?

Or, he plays the good soldier and comes to camp ready to compete, to see how far he can take this team. This Lakers squad is not a contender, but it is not horrible either. It has little margin for error the way it is constructed, but it can be a good team. Kobe could do what he does again this year, come up with a standard line when asked about this past summers rants (along the lines of “I just want this franchise to be the best it can be”) and let his actions remind Lakers brass and fans why they don’t want him to leave.

None of those three options are bettered by him doing another cathartic round of media interviews.

Ultimately, just as he did in the Shaq situation three summers ago, Kobe has the hammer. He has the opt out in two years. He can walk. He knows it, the Lakers know it. The front office knows there is a deadline to find a way to compete. Maybe they worried about this before Kobe’s summer rants, maybe they didn’t, but they sure do now.

If a move to make the Lakers a contender can’t happen by around the next draft, maybe Mitch starts to quietly ask around about what he could get for Kobe. Maybe.

But for the coming season, the die are cast.

And I don’t think talking to the media about it does anyone any good.