If Bryant does remain with the Lakers, will he be able to attract free agents to fortify the roster? Kobe isn't close to many players in the league, unlike life-of-the-party O'Neal, who was more responsible than anyone, including Buss and Kupchak, for getting Malone and Payton to sign with Los Angeles.
The only good news Bryant got last week came in Eagle. Mark Hurlbert, the district attorney who decided to charge Bryant last July, withdrew from the case, claiming that a "high level of involvement" in it would interfere with his administrative duties on other cases and would not be fair to the citizens of his four-county district. Three young lawyers, none of whom is nearly as accomplished as Bryant's attorney, Pamela Mackey, have taken over. Hurlbert faces his own firestorm of criticism—"This is like the captain of a ship, when a storm is approaching, instructing his crew to let him off at the next port," said Bruce Brown, the Democrat running against Republican Hurlbert in the November election—but the larger question is whether the D.A.'s withdrawal indicates that he lacks confidence in the prosecution's case.
How Kobe feels is anyone's guess because, throughout this difficult season, the man has kept his own counsel and his emotions firmly in check. That was not the case with Krzyzewski on Monday; whatever private doubts he might have had about turning down the money and the challenge, he looked relieved. At Duke he's still Coach K, where bright-eyed, floor-pounding acolytes play on a court named after him. In L.A, after all, he would have just been Kobe's coach.