AS THE Chicago
Bulls, gloom enshrouding them like a cold Lake Michigan fog, pack their bags
for an 11-day, six-game road trip that begins on Thursday in Phoenix, coach
Scott Skiles should consider bringing a psychiatrist on the team plane. For the
Bulls are scheduled to spend Friday through Sunday in Los Angeles, a place that
can make anyone crazy in the best of times, never mind anyone subjected to
endless mentions of the name Kobe Bryant. � Yes, still another weapon in the
astounding arsenal of Bryant has surfaced: He has the power to screw up two
teams. Shouts of "Ko-BE!" could be heard last Saturday in the United
Center, where the Bulls were wrapping up a disgraceful 101--71 loss to the
Toronto Raptors, Chicago's reputation as a scrappy democracy that wins with
persistence, defense and a hail of jump shots in ruins after a 1--5 start.
Bryant, who most
recently asked out of L.A. last May, has been the subject of multiple trade
conversations between general managers John Paxson ( Bulls) and Mitch Kupchak
( Lakers), and after Saturday's disheartening defeat, it's likely that Paxson
has added Kupchak's name to his Five. Any optimism that arose from the Bulls'
97--93 win over the Detroit Pistons two nights earlier evaporated in an evening
of clanging jumpers ( Chicago made only five of 21 three-pointers),
disappointing defense ( Toronto shot 75.0% in the third quarter) and a second
half of garbage time (Viktor Khryapa, the Bulls' 11th man, played 22 minutes).
The season-ticket refund line starts to the left.
of the Bulls would come out and say that the uncertainty about Bryant has
anything to do with the malaise afflicting the team. But even before the
season's nadir, Skiles had held group and individual meetings about the specter
of Bryant. The coach emphasized two things: 1) Yes, it's tough being public
trade bait every day, and the organization feels for you, but 2) hug it out and
move on. (When Skiles played for the Orlando Magic in 1993--94, rumors were so
strong that he was going to be traded to the New York Knicks that the Knicks'
trainer had a number 1 jersey made up for him. The deal fell through, but
Skiles was presented the jersey--which he still has'when New York visited
Some of those
Bulls whose names are in heavy rumor rotation concede that, yes, things are
bad. "Frustration is at an alltime high since I've been here," point
guard Kirk Hinrich, in his fifth year, said after Saturday's loss. "The
crowd is frustrated, and we're frustrated as well."
"This is my
lowest point," said small forward Luol Deng.
expect the crowd to be happy with the effort," said shooting guard Ben
Gordon. "We're in some kind of funk right now."
Two key questions
remain: Will a Bryant trade happen? And should it happen?
first. "What would I say about the chances of a trade right now?"
Paxson said on Saturday. "I'd say, 'Check what I said last week.'" On
Nov. 1, Paxson said, "There's not a deal done. There's not going to be a
deal done.... We kind of put it to rest." The operative words are kind of.
In the language of Hollywood, where, as screenwriter William Goldman memorably
noted, movie deals can be set but not set set, a prospective
Bryant-to-the-Bulls deal is dead but not dead dead.
putting together a package for Bryant, who is the only player in the league
with a full no-trade clause, is no simple thing. On the one hand, while he has
not specifically enumerated the destinations he considers acceptable, the Windy
City is certainly one of them. Bryant, however, has reportedly nixed any deal
with Chicago that would involve Deng, whom he presumably casts as Scottie
Pippen to his Michael Jordan, while the Lakers insist that Deng be
But keep this in
mind: Trade talks are often like labor negotiations, heating up as
circumstances become more dire. A disastrous road trip for the Bulls, and
Paxson will be going to bed with his cellphone in hand; a few more Lakers
losses (they were 3--2 through Monday and were scheduled to play the San
Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Pistons before the Bulls visit on Sunday)
and another week of heavy Kobe pouting, and Kupchak will be answering on the