Trouble at the top (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday May 30, 2007 3:53PM; Updated: Wednesday May 30, 2007 6:20PM
Off appearances alone, it would be no surprise to assume Jim Buss having no such issues with grabbing the reins from Kupchak. The younger Buss has long been rumored to be the driving force behind keeping young big man Andrew Bynum (at the expense of reportedly acquiring Jason Kidd), and you can't blame the guy. You can blame him for going on record to trash Jackson and bash the triangle, especially when his father is paying Jackson handsomely to employ that offense. And, while we're at it, you can probably question the basketball acumen of the Buss men; Jerry once called the triangle "boring" at times. When performed properly, no basketball offense in history is as aesthetically pleasing. If you don't have Steve Nash -- or Magic Johnson, for that matter -- you're pretty much left with orthodoxy. The Buss family seems hesitant to admit as much.
And money, not just cap inflexibility, is an issue. Jerry Buss does not want to pay the luxury tax. The Lakers just missed the tax threshold in 2006-07 and won't come anywhere near it next season if the team stands pat. Bryant's and Odom's salaries alone make up nearly half of what will likely constitute the luxury-tax threshold next season (somewhere in the mid-$60 million range), and no amount of parts, even including Bynum, could bring in a well-paid third star to complement those two unless some desperate team wants to take on Brown's expiring contract.
Fixing this just won't be easy, and Kobe has to understand that. Speaking on a radio show Tuesday, he mentioned Warriors guard Baron Davis wanting to come to the Lakers during some unnamed offseason, while willingly taking on less money to do so. What? Davis has been in the NBA since June 1999, and he's never been a free agent. Not once.
Trading for Carlos Boozer last season would have been next-to-impossible without dealing Odom (Brown was a base-year compensation player at the time), and the only way Kidd becomes a Laker is if the team gives up Odom and Bynum in return. As bad as the Pacers have been mismanaged recently, it's hard to see them sending Jermaine O'Neal to the Lakers for the Odom/Bynum combo (and the lack of cap relief that deal would represent), and it's hard to see the Lakers doing much beyond 45-50 wins if the deal does go through.
So it's easy to appreciate Bryant's frustrations, and applaud him for not wanting to spend his prime on a mediocre team. And yet, you have to question his timing. Even if Shaq hadn't been dealt in 2004 and the two stars had made up, a Shaq/Kobe pairing in 2007 just isn't winning more than 50 games with Shaq's inability to stay healthy.
What Bryant needed to do, immediately after signing that massive free-agent deal in 2004, was demand a more active role in his team's restructuring. That way, Butler never leaves town. That way, Kobe understands why the team can't simply trade for that mythical 20-and-10 guy. That way, the Lakers aren't well on their way to another 45-win season even if Bryant stays in Los Angeles. That way, Kobe isn't demanding a divorce from the team he's seemed so perfectly suited for since graduating from a Philadelphia-area high school.
Is Bryant's newfound public interest in Lakers personnel a few years too late? Definitely. Will his trade demand actually force the Lakers into dealing the superstar? It's not likely. And it's far less likely that this team will be able to make wholesale roster changes with Bryant on board without breaking up its core. That's just an NBA reality that Kobe should be well aware of by now.