October 12, 2007
After The Love Has Gone
Make an offer we can’t refuse and Kobe Bryant is yours. Two years ago that was unthinkable. Today it’s a given.
Bryant has never been so close to his goal: out of LA and playing for a contender. Smelling the finish line, Kobe has transparently suggested that it’s best to deal him now while teams are still in camp and can adjust. All true but the Lakers have so many needs to fill in a Kobe deal that a quick resolution is doubtful. Add Bryant’s no trade clause and the brakes slam down.
Dealing Kobe begins with a franchise defining choice – get young players or above the line talent? LA is an above the line town, the Lakers have always had a superstar. They’d jump on a trade for Dwyane Wade or Dwight Howard but it’s highly unlikely that a life preserver will be tossed their way.
If the Lakers can’t get a name in trade they will want to clear a max slot for the 2010 free agent gold rush when LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh all have player options. Any Kobe trade offer that includes an aging vet with a contract that runs past 2010 is rejected. Dr. Buss won’t approve a trade that ends both of his chances to acquire a name talent.
Compounding the decision is that the Lakers have great difficulty making one these days. Build around Bryant or keep the youth? Both. No doubt that will be their answer to what they want in a Kobe trade. We want the walking ATM that fills the courtside seats, luxury suites and city buzz. We also want young talent. And draft picks. The waitress hands them a menu and they say yes. Choosing a single path is not the front office fortė. Yet a single path may be all that they are offered.
Those offers would begin with Kobe’s list of five preferred teams: Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Chicago and New York.
Amare Stoudemire will be atop the Laker wish list, but the Suns would be lilliputian without him. The west goes through Tim Duncan. So the Suns move on to Shawn Marion and Leandro Barbosa. The Lakers probably ask for the unprotected Atlanta #1 next year in a Suns deal, but Phoenix is unlikely to give it up.
Predicted LA reaction: They’d rather have max slot cap room in summer 2010 than Shawn Marion at a max extension. Phil Jackson has sought Marion for the triangle in the past, but if LA rejected Marion for Odom they reject him for Kobe as well. Deal dies unless Marion can be converted into something else via 3-way. Problem there is no one else wants to trade value for Marion at max. Even if Phoenix said ok we'll add the Atlanta #1, I stil see LA saying no. Marion is not worth max and losing the 2010 max slot.
Mark Cuban has made it clear that Dirk Nowitzki is untouchable. He’s offered Josh Howard and Jason Terry, Buss rejected it, possibly because Terry’s contract runs through 2011. A counter offer of Howard, Devin Harris and Trenton Hassell avoids the 2010 concern.
Predicted LA reaction: Worth considering but they hold out for better.
Tracy McGrady works straight across contractually. LA gets their name and their choice of Rocket extras on an overcrowded roster that has to shed players to get to 15. Shane Battier, Bonzi Wells, Chuck Hayes, Kirk Snyder and Luther Head are all players the Lakers have asked about in past trade talks.
Predicted LA reaction: This has everything the Lakers would seemingly want. The name, with a bonus they love, a max contract that ends in 2010. Can let TMac go if they sign a name in free agency or re-sign him if they don’t. Also get quality role players they like. But McGrady’s back trouble looms, along with making Houston an instant contender.
The Lakers have said no Deng no deal. Kobe has said he wants to play with Deng. Paxson wants to keep Deng. Someone has to give and it’s not LA. Every deal without Deng is rejected. So the Bulls either pass or ante up with Deng, Gordon and PJ Brown (in for contract matching purposes). Brown would be re-signed to a three-year deal with just the first year guaranteed at 10M, functionally a last year player.
Predicted LA reaction: Deng is a great fit in the triangle and with the Bynum development timeline. Not a name but his blossoming talent could make him a name in time. The Lakers are rumored to want Deng and Hinrich, can’t see Chicago going for that. If Pax counters with Gordon instead of Hinrich, hard to see LA saying no. Complication is Gordon’s contract demands for a 70M extension. The Bulls have other options on a very deep squad (maybe Noah but not Ty Thomas), so plenty of room for negotiation – provided Deng is in the deal.
The Knicks have fires of their own, but Kobe in the city gets Isiah on the phone. David Lee would be the first Laker request, superb fit as a triangle 4. Jamal Crawford would be a logical next step but 2011 contract. Zach and Curry same thing. Forces a 3-way, never a good sign in scenarios.
Predicted LA reaction: Up to you to put a 3-way together and bring it to us. If Lee and quality are in there with no 2011 contracts we’re interested. Tall order for Isiah.
So first glance at the five teams, two can provide a deal LA could theoretically accept, Chicago and Houston. Phoenix would have to give Amare and that doesn’t make sense for them. New York has to go 3-way. Dallas doesn’t have enough impact to offer. If Chicago refuses to part with Deng they are out. Houston may be the only one left standing. Though the Lakers could decide to pass on McGrady’s back and making a team in the west a title contender.
As always with trades, the most likely deal is none. Kobe isn’t leaving until LA gets a deal they like. Chicago is my odds-on favorite, but that’s on Paxson. As to when, teams are reluctant to deal before the season begins. Clubs want to see what their roster is capable of first. Optimism reigns in early Ocotber, realism hits at the deadline. A team has to truly know they need Kobe to win a ring to make what I call the offer of pain. A deal that hurts but helps you get to the goal.
Kobe’s days as a Laker are ending, but when could still take a year even two. Some rejoice at a Kobe exit out of diva fatigue. I don’t. In the past fifty years of NBA finals only twice has the winner had no Hall of Famers on the roster. Seattle in 1979 with Dennis Johnson and Gus Williams dominating in the backcourt and Detroit’s suffocating defense in 2004. Not the skill sets this Laker front office values.
Kobe Bryant, ex-Laker. Just a matter of when.
Something happened along the way, what used to be happy was sad…something happened along the way and yesterday was all we had…after the love has gone. Cue Don Myrick’s sax solo.