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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Kobe: "I'm Ready to Play. Period."

Prepare for a new onslaught of Kobe Bryant media overkill focusing on two themes: a possible trade of the Lakers' superstar to the Chicago Bulls and a quote from Lakers' Coach Phil Jackson questioning Bryant's commitment to the team. This site does not usually give much credence to rumors but where there is smoke there is fire and there are indications that the Bulls and Lakers are seriously contemplating a deal. Bryant's no-trade clause gives him veto power over any move but Chicago has enough young talent to put together a package that can be satisfactory to all sides: L.A. would obviously be rebuilding without Bryant and would need an infusion of young talent, while the deal can only work for Chicago if the Bulls retain enough of their core group to be a contender with the addition of Bryant, who would obviously not agree to any trade that guts his prospective new team.

Jackson's broadside is what makes me really believe that the Bryant era in L.A. is coming to an end. In addition to being a great coach, Jackson is a master of office politics and public relations. In Chicago, he rallied the Bulls around him in part by nurturing the players' us versus them relationship with General Manager Jerry Krause (which is not to say that Krause was blameless). In L.A., Jackson understood from the start that he must win Shaquille O'Neal's loyalty and he did a masterful job of that, culminating in making some comments--including some passages in his book The Last Season--that gave many people the erroneous perception that Bryant forced the Lakers to trade O'Neal; when Jackson returned to the Lakers he admitted that this was not true and said that his book was a diary reflecting his feelings at a particular moment and not necessarily an objective view of the overall situation. Bryant accepted this explanation and he and Jackson have seemingly had a closer relationship than ever since then--a relationship that will be tested by this cheap shot by Jackson: "Obviously he hasn't thrown his heart and soul into performing on the floor. That hurts me a little bit...He was going to work at this thing and [would] put his full being into this. Right now, he's having a hard time doing that." That is the surest sign yet that Bryant is about to be shipped off and Jackson is attempting to shore up his relationship with the Lakers' ownership and management. Until Jackson made that statement on Saturday he had been squarely in Bryant's corner, agreeing with the two-time scoring champion that the team has done a poor job of surrounding him with enough talent.

Not surprisingly, Bryant--whose work ethic and dedication are legendary and have never been questioned by anyone, even his biggest detractors--took great umbrage at Jackson's assertion: "That [should be] the least of his concerns or anybody's concerns. You don't have to worry about that...I'm ready to play. Period. You don't have to worry about me." Bryant's preseason statistics have not been great and he is currently dealing with a wrist injury but he brushed off any concerns that he won't be ready to go when the regular season begins, noting that Jackson has asked him to be more of a playmaker this season: "I experimented with different things. I have a different role this year. It's not something where people should be concerned that I'm going to come out and play like [bleep]. Let's not push the panic button over a couple of preseason games."

When Bryant missed Friday's preseason game due to the wrist injury, Jackson gave no indication that anything was amiss in terms of Bryant's dedication. Jackson's sudden about face says a lot more about him--and about the increasing likelihood that Bryant will be traded sooner rather than later--than it does about Bryant, who was the widely acknowledged leader of Team USA this summer and who carried the Lakers to the playoffs last year by posting the highest post-All-Star Game scoring average in the past 43 years.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:00 PM

11 comments

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11 Comments:

At Sunday, October 28, 2007 6:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

kobe sure dont seem like he ready to play if you hear what phil jackson had to say none the less kobe a good player hell have a good season no matter in la or whereever he is chicago look like the destination. the problem is lueol deng the lakers want him and so do kobe he doesnt want to go to chicago if deng isnt there it would be hard to get equal value if deng isnt in it for the lakers. the proposed trade was deng gordon noah thomas for kobe. but that leaves nocioni hinrich and ben wallace not enough to win ring. if you look the other way gordon noah thomas 1st round pick. did you get enough for a top 2 or 3 player in the league probably not, plus kobe can VETO any trade meaning if he dont like it he is not going to go even if both teams agree to trade. so this is going to be tough for both sides of the equation for kobe to be on a team to win a championship, and lakers to get equal value for kobe and not make the mistake they did with shaq not getting equal value on trade. and also they have to match salaries as well.

dallas has more to offer if they send terry howard dampier aand i forget the other player for kobe, i think lakers would be good with howard terry odom with bynum and dampier as they bigs with a good role player in walton, and dallas have kobe and dirk would be title contenders as well. the problem is the lakers dont want to face kobe 4 times in a season so this trade will never happen more than likely.

well have to see what happens clearly he doesnt want to be there and they probably wont to move him as well we just got to see david.

 
At Sunday, October 28, 2007 9:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I'll believe that Kobe is not ready if (1) he doesn't play on opening night or (2) if he plays poorly on opening night.

My initial inclination during the offseason was to believe that Kobe would be with the Lakers this season unless the team really bottomed out before the All-Star break or some team blew the Lakers away with a great offer. However, I really believe that Jackson's comment is a sign that Kobe is going to be dealt soon. The other thing to consider is that the Lakers and especially the Bulls don't want the specter of this potential trade hanging over them indefinitely, so they either need to get something done or very publicly state that the deal is dead.

 
At Monday, October 29, 2007 4:38:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

I do not think that it is fair to blame Phil Jackson for getting a shot at Kobe. Kobe's behaviour this offseason has been far from stellar, and specifically his refusal to practice citing some obscure "knee issues" crossed the line with Phil Jackson. One of the reasons why Phil Jackson had such a strong alliance with Jordan was that he never let his offcourt issues affect his oncourt activities (while others like Grant or Pippen did).

Phil Jackson confronted Pippen when he felt that the player was letting his teammates down even if he felt that Pippen was right about Bulls management shotchanging him, and now Phil Jackson has confronted Kobe for letting the team down.

In a sense, I think Lazenby is right: by provoking Kobe's outburst, Jerry Buss managed to break the dangerous Jackson-Bryant alliance that threatened to break the back of the Lakers much like the Jackson-Jordan alliance ended up breaking the back of the Bulls.

 
At Monday, October 29, 2007 7:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I thought that the Lakers said that all of this should be handled behind closed doors. Jackson originally said that Kobe's absence from the Friday game was excused due to the wrist injury--then on Saturday, out of the blue, he questions the work ethic of perhaps the hardest working player in the league? Even if he is right--and I doubt it--how exactly does this help the team?

I don't understand how any Jackson-Bryant alliance would hurt the Lakers. The fact that the Lakers got rid of Shaq for pennies on the dollar and have done little to upgrade the roster for several years is their biggest problem.

Even if Jackson's statement is true it served no constructive purpose--and if it is false then that is a horrible thing to do to the team's best player and hardest worker.

 
At Monday, October 29, 2007 8:06:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

Well, for a start it made Kobe return to practice and reportedly to apologize to his teammates, and hopefully will put an end to his poor showing with the team so far. Minor ailments or not, Kobe looks like a shell of the player that took the Pan-American Games by storm a couple months back.

Also, the fact that he has been a hard working player in the past means little: again, Pippen and Grant put in a tremendous amount of work to go from relatively obscure draft picks to All Stars (and more in the case of Pippen). Later on, Grant admitted to be pacing himself to avoid an injury before getting a new contract, and Pippen almost claimed to be faking an injury to remain on the sidelines. To give it more of a twist, Grant went on to give his all with the Magic and Pippen put his body on the line during the Finals.

So much for predictions based on previous behaviour.

Phil Jackson used Michael Jordan as a battering ram against Jerry&Jerry. In the end, Jordan retired, Krause ended up without a reputation or a job, and Reinsdorf took ten years to rebuild the Bulls under constant fire from the fans and media - but Jackson moved on to another three rings with the Lakers.

Phil Jackson is again feuding with management, much like he did with Jerry West. Only this time it's way harder, as it's the owner's son and heir he's fighting. So far, his main weapon has been his relationship with Kobe Bryant and the fact that any hope to keep Kobe in the Lakers includes Phil as coach.

Remember the "last dance" soap opera? All those "organizations win championships" press conferences, all that "they are driving Jordan out" etc. Well, by dividing Kobe from Phil Jackson, Jerry Buss has gotten himself into a very safe and strong position in the case of a PR war in the media if the trade / no-trade situation drags on. Which may well be the case considering how convoluted contract issues seem to be regarding a trade.

I think.

 
At Monday, October 29, 2007 4:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I'd like to know your source for the nugget that Jackson's statement "made Kobe return to practice and reportedly to apologize to his teammates." Kobe has a lingering knee issue and a wrist that he injured in the preseason game versus Utah. Also, like many players that participate in Team USA activities during the summer--which were called the FIBA Americas tournament, not the "Pan- American Games"--he probably is a bit fatigued. What makes more sense--to get the dominant Kobe in preseason games or the dominant Kobe in the regular season? Unless or until we know that Kobe is somehow faking or exaggerating his ailments the only reasonable position to take--based on his body of work--is to assume that he is legitimately injured.

I don't interpret Jackson's comment to mean that he is feuding with management--far from it, in fact. I think that he has read the tea leaves, figured out that Kobe is history in L.A. and has allied himself with management (or whichever part of management he believes will win whatever internal power struggle is going on between the trade Kobe faction and the don't trade Kobe faction).

The Bulls did drive Jordan out, even if he or others may have had a thought about retiring or leaving anyway. That stuff started years earlier, when MJ and Pip were vastly underpaid. It escalated when Kukoc got his big contract and escalated a bit more when the Bulls finally gave MJ a huge deal only to have Reinsdorf say that he hoped he would not regret signing MJ for so much money. Before the last title season, Krause said that--win or lose--the team would be broken up. That was a new one to me--I've heard of breaking up a team if it doesn't win but never have I heard of breaking up a team, win or lose. That was ridiculous. Jackson has always been wily--or perhaps devious is an even better word--in the way that he has played office politics. Lazenby once explained that Jackson threw Johnny Bach under the bus for comments that Jackson himself made to Sam Smith for Smith's book the Jordan Rules and Lazenby offered other examples of this, too, including the way that Jackson aligned himself with Shaq and against Kobe.

 
At Monday, October 29, 2007 5:22:00 PM, Anonymous jn said...

It was indeed the FIBA Americas, my bad.

Phil Jackson has been feuding with management for decades now. His power struggle with Jerry West was a major factor in West moving away to Memphis after a short retirement, and he has been trading barbs in the media with Jim Buss all summer long (either himself or through others, like Kurt Rambis or Jeannie Buss). Lazenby suggests that Jackson is the inspiration for Sam Smith's column that suggested that Kobe should sit out the season - the suggestion was not meant to be taken seriously, but it still had quite some shocking effect. Given the relationship between Jackson and Smith, I find it very plausible.

[As an aside, Lazenby also suggests that Krause was already looking for an excuse to fire Bach, for much the same reasons as Jackson ie how popular and close he was with players and media. Krause's subsequent emotional admission of having been misled could well be a case of selective memory, irrespective of the fact that Jackson at the very least allowed it to happen and quite probably engineered it.]

Despite all their talk about ending it win or lose, Jerry & Jerry reportedly did put forth an offer after the last ring. I am not sure it was actually so, or if they really meant it, or if it was feasible at all. I do strongly suspect that Phil Jackson was one of the main reasons why that avenue (and others, like parting amicably with Pippen and Jackson but retaining a Jordan who seemed to get cold feet at the very end and eventually came back to play) was not explored even cursorily.

I think that it was not viable as there was simply too much bad blood between the parties, but I also think that Phil Jackson decided that Bulls management and specially Krause would get their fill of that "life after jordan" they apparently craved so much.

So Phil Jackson has been quite vocal in his criticism of management and the players they brought in for a couple years now, but he is also in his last year of contract and his trump card, his alliance with Kobe, has been effectively countered by Buss Sr. No wonder he is now reportedly willing to consider implementing more of a motion offense and publicly especulating about coaching the Kobe-less Lakers.

The source was my memory of Vecsey's column - it was not accurate in that it reads that the team meeting was before Kobe's absence from training (and so he did not apologize for something that had not happened yet, he stated a commitment to the team), but after Phil Jackson dissed him Kobe has returned to his previous commitment to the team as stated in the meeting. Or so says Vecsey.

 
At Monday, October 29, 2007 5:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Thank you for clarifying your source. Kobe was adamant in his rejection of Jackson's statement, which is why I find it hard to believe that he would apologize; indeed, to this point Kobe has nothing for which to apologize. If Kobe starts sitting out games despite being healthy (which could be a bit difficult to determine, at least initially, but which would become clearer in the long run) or if he is healthy but no longer playing hard then I will criticize him like I would criticize any other player. However, let's wait and see what actually happens once the season begins.

Despite all of his Zen musings--which may very well be quite sincere--Jackson is a cutthroat competitor and is second to none in handling his business in terms of behind the scenes maneuvering.

The term for what Krause did to the Bulls is "sucking the joy out of life." When you say that you are going to break up the best team of the era--and one of the best of all-time--win or lose you set a bad tone for everything that follows.

 
At Monday, October 29, 2007 10:49:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I'm really tiring of all of Jackson's political maneuvering. I'd be more sympathetic if he actually had a stance directly involving basketball (and stuck to it) than if it didn't seem like constant self-serving.

I wonder if having Phil Jackson in LA for all these years (and all of the titles he helped win) was really worth Jerry West leaving and the incompetent front office which has since emerged, and the never-ending soap opera.

As a Lakers fan, I wish Magic Johnson could somehow buy the team from Jerry Buss and whole franchise could have fresh start.


A Bulls lineup of Hinrich/Kobe/Nocioni/Deng/Wallace would be very scary.

 
At Monday, October 29, 2007 11:01:00 PM, Anonymous The Spin said...

Kobe's bound for another spectacular season.

www.clutch3.com

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 3:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

That Bulls lineup would win the Eastern Conference and give the Spurs a run for their money in the NBA Finals. That lineup can score and defend and would not back down from anyone.

 

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