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Evilmav2
08-08-2004, 07:55 AM
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Kobe completes Lakers housecleaning
What remains in L.A. isn't a team, it's Bryant's entourage

COMMENTARY
By Michael Ventre
NBCSports.com contributor
Updated: 6:11 p.m. ET Aug. 6, 2004

Itís been a fabulous week for Kobe Bryant. First, his alleged accuser indicated through her attorneys that she may withdraw her support in the criminal trial, thus removing a major obstacle to his upcoming season. Then the Los Angeles Lakers traded away Gary Payton and Rick Fox, thereby ridding the team of any resistance to Bryantís authority. Add these developments to an already fruitful summer, which involved the firing of Phil Jackson and the scrapping of the triangle offense, the exiling of Shaquille OíNeal and the signing of a seven-year, $136 million contract, and you would be wise to follow Bryant from table to table if you ever spot him in a casino.
Fridayís trade wonít cause tears to flow in Lakerland. Itís sad to see Fox go, because he had become such a symbol of toughness and pride during his seven-year tenure in Los Angeles, especially during the run of three straight titles. But age and injuries were conspiring to cut short his career anyway, so whatever basketball he has left is garnish on an already distinguished legacy.

Payton is a different kettle of fish. He struggled as a Laker, especially in the postseason, and at 36 is no cinch to regain his form. He was eminently dispensable.

However, the larger issue is the shift in authority. Not since L. Paul Bremer handed sovereignty to Ayad Allawi has the world seen such a transfer of power.

After all the off-season changes, the Lakers are now officially Kobe Bryantís team. Wags might point out that it has been thus for some time, ever since the last Super Bowl Sunday, when owner Jerry Buss joined Bryant at the playerís home in Newport Beach, Calif., and came away convinced that Bryant was the horse upon which he would bet his fortune.

First Jackson. Then OíNeal. Then Derek Fisher bolted, signing with Golden State. Now Payton and Fox are out. And with Payton gone, itís extremely doubtful that Karl Malone will want to re-enlist with the Lakers.

What remains isnít a team, itís an entourage.

There is nobody left in the locker room Ė including coach Rudy Tomjanovich Ė who will challenge Bryantís right to govern in any way, shape or form. He has absolute free reign. Even Michael Jordan had Jackson and Scottie Pippen. The situation Bryant has now is about as close as you will ever see to a monarchy in our nationís history.

Officially, the trade shipped Payton, Fox, a lottery-protected first-round draft pick and cash to the Boston Celtics for Chris Mihm, guards Marcus Banks and Chucky Atkins and a second-round pick.

In basketball spin, the Lakers said they did this because they needed a big man. Instead of Shaq, they will play a two-headed center of Vlade Divac and Mihm. When you consider that the 7-foot Mihm has played four NBA seasons, has never averaged in double figures in points or rebounds and has been discarded now by both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Celtics, the Lakers can only hope Divac comes to camp in the best shape of his life. If Shaq were still a Laker, Mihm would have been a fine backup for 10 minutes a game. Giving him any more responsibility than that is an exercise in madness.

When the Celtics drafted Banks out of Nevada-Las Vegas last summer, they did so with great fanfare. Giving up on him after one year could be construed as a giant red flag. Atkins is a solid complementary player. Atkins and Banks will be a serviceable, if unspectacular, tandem at the point for the Lakers, replacing Fisher and Payton.

But there is something to be said for veteran leadership. Divac is 36. Brian Grant is 32. Theyíre the Lakersí elder statesmen now. Ideally, theyíre the ones the young players would look to for guidance and wisdom.

Does anybody really think Bryant is going to listen to them? Do the Lakers believe for a moment that when Kobe struggles while trying to carry the entire team that he will seek out sagacious morsels from Lamar Odom or Caron Butler? Even Horace Grant doesnít want to come back to this team, and he wasnít projected to play much anyway.

This move may free up some salary-cap room so the Lakers can pursue more help. But the way this is going, why would any self-respecting NBA player worth having join this Lakersí assemblage? For the chance to pay homage to Kobe?

The Lakers profess a desire to run. They want to infuse more athleticism into their roster. Getting rid of Payton and Fox certainly does that. But there are lots of teams who are athletic. The Atlanta Hawks are athletic. The Seattle SuperSonics are athletic. The Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards are athletic.

The word ďathleticĒ isnít a synonym for good.

These individual transactions arenít the problem. Itís an overzealous desire to placate Bryant that is the issue. Designating Bryant Ė who turns 26 on Aug. 23 Ė as sole and undisputed team leader is foolhardy. Heís spectacular and clutch. Heís also selfish and stubborn. If ever a superstar needed a buffer or two, itís Bryant. Instead, he has quietly orchestrated the redesign of a proud franchise in his image, and now he can take all the credit.

He can also take all the blame, and there will be plenty.

Whenever the Lakers play poorly, Kobe can look in the mirror and give himself a severe tongue-lashing. Heís the only person left who can get away with it now.

Michael Ventre writes regularly for NBCSports.com and is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

Drbio
08-08-2004, 03:43 PM
showbe the drama puss will wallow in mediocrity with that "team".



He deserves every sucky moment and so do all the leaker fans.

LRB
08-09-2004, 01:31 PM
Wouldn't it be wonderful to see Shobe become the man the same year the Lakeshow returns to the lotto?

MikeB
08-09-2004, 01:35 PM
I think I would much rather damn them to forever being the 8th seed so they never get a lottery pick to improve with.