Woke up this morning to the ugly Ric Bucher blacklash on Twitter. Seems Mr. Bucher had the temerity to suggest that the Lakers trade Kobe Bryant instead of Pau Gasol.

The nerve of him.

Granted, I disagree with him completely (and I had a good laugh at the angry pro-Laker vitriol being spewed in his direction), but it’s not as if he’s off his rocker here. Fact is, this situation is beyond complicated, and there is simply no easy way out of the situation the Lakers currently find themselves in. Believe me, the basic principle of getting what you can for a guy of Kobe’s value makes sense, but it’s not grounded in any kind of reality. It’s basically the kind of trade that makes sense in Fantasy sports, but not in real life.

I got all deep into this stuff a few weeks ago, especially as it concerns Kobe and his future with this franchise. Still, there’s more to it.

Let’s face it, Lakers are in a real jam right now, and there’s no reason to think Jimmy Buss and his drinking buddies are smart enough to get them out of it. As it stands now, they already have a roster that costs a fortune and no desire to add payroll to a team that simply isn’t good enough to win a title as it stands. The whispers we heard in the wake of the Lamar Odom trade that the move was basically a salary dump are thus far appearing to be true, which means the only significant roster changes they could make would be as a result of trading one of their 3 big assets. For a team with a two year window to win championships before the new luxury tax forces them to sell off their high-payed players, this would appear to be a horrible time to start the bean-counting. After all, wouldn’t it be wiser to pay 10 million or so in luxury tax for a team that can win titles right now than to do nothing and squander Kobe’s golden years?

The thing of it is, you need to choose a course of action and stick with it, whatever it may be. As an organization, the Lakers need to decide what is more important: winning now and cementing Kobe’s legacy, or cutting ties and putting the future first.

If they choose the former (and I would), then without question the only move is to improve the team right now, either by using their resources to ass players and face paying the luxury tax, or by seeking out a trade where they get multiple players back for Pau Gasol, thus addressing this teams’ most pressing issues, depth and poor point guard play.

If it’s the latter, if they really feel like it’s wise to pull the plug on the Kobe Bryant era while he is still playing at such a high level, then by all means, have at it. Like I said, the flaw isn’t in the idea of trying to fetch multiple assets for Kobe Bryant, it’s in the idea of trading the face of the franchise, arguably the great Laker of all-time, while he’s still got enough in the tank to get it done on the big stage. That, in both the basketball and public relation sense, is somthing akin to franchise suicide.

Like I said, beyond complicated.

When all is said and done, there’s only really one feasible scenario, and it involves Kobe playing out his contract in LA. By 2014, (when the super-duper luxury tax kicks in) Kobe will be making 30 million dollars in the final year of his contract. At that point, he’ll be too old (35) to be worth that money, and not valuable enough to fetch much in trade. Realistically, that season will serve as the farewell tour, and the franchise will be moving toward the future and a huge salary cap relief when Kobe’s 30 million comes off the books. Matter of fact, the only players currently under contract for that season are Kobe, Pau, Metta and Steve Blake, so even if we are to assume that they will extend Andrew Bynum’s contract the previous summer, you are still looking at enough space to essentially start over and build around Andrew.

So really, ask yourself if it makes more sense to send Kobe away now and rip the heart out of the franchise, or trade a 31 year old Pau Gasol for a couple of solid players and take your chances on the fact that Kobe, Andrew and a new supporting cast is enough to get over the hump.

Seems like an easy call to me.

Still, I see where Bucher was coming from, but I’m glad a guy with his mentality is not in charge of this team. While it may be true that there is no such thing as sentimentality or loyalty in pro sports these days, there is still such a thing as common sense.

Then again, Jimmy Buss is running this team.



-John Hathwell


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