Just when the Lakers are starting to play better, the plot thickens. They finally notch a good road win against a good team, and it was a footnote in the soap opera surrounding Kobe and Lakers' front office. Nothing is ever easy, huh?
It seems these Lakers always have some drama circling them. It's just how they operate during the Kobe era. Some issues are probably blown out of proportion due to the Lakers' extreme popularity, but there is usually some issue. Shaq, Phil, sexual assault trial, Shaq, Phil, 2007, is the team too soft, Phil again, aging, and now Jimbo. Of course, there's been far more great moments in that span, but it's never just a smooth ride.
We're used to it by now. No biggie. Right? Not really. The Lakers seem to be starting to gel. It'd be one thing if the Lakers completely sucked and major changes seemed so inevitable that drama couldn't possibly make a bad thing worse. It's a whole 'nother problem when the team gives you the impression that they're really starting to come together just to fall apart due to a lack of communication. How long will internal problems linger over this team and threaten to ruin momentum?
It's one thing for Kobe to voice displeasure (this is far from his first time speaking his mind), it's another issue when Magic Johnson is on ESPN telling Jim Buss that he needs to become a better owner and sit down and talk to Kobe. Magic has always been (it seems) a guy plugged into what the Lakers do. Not only is he close to Jerry Buss, but he was once a minor owner of the team. If Magic is on the the tube telling Jimmy to step up and talk to his star, it tells me the problem between Kobe and Jim is bigger than we'd dare imagine. It says those close to the organization see a clear and present danger in the way Jim Buss is operating the Lakers.
At first I thought Magic's statements might have been coming from Lakers' brass. When Magic told viewers to expect major roster changes following getting swept by the Mavs in last season's playoffs, I took it as a message from the organization. A move seemed inevitable and I assumed Magic was made privy to the Lakers' plans to some extent. Sure enough, as soon as the lockout ended, the Lakers tried to trade for Chris Paul. That's a pretty major roster move and Magic called it months in advance. And now he's on SportsCenter calling out Jimmy? He didn't just state that Jimmy and Kobe needed to talk. He damn-near called Jimbo a bad owner. Just how bad is the level of secrecy in El Segundo?
Magic Johnson via Dave Mcmenamin, ESPN:
"... I think what Kobe really probably wants is just be informed. As a leader, as a future Hall of Famer, as a guy who has brought five championships to the Lakers and the fans of Los Angeles, he just wants to probably have more communication, probably like he did when Phil Jackson was there and he worked well with Mitch. I don't think that Kobe feels he's got that type of relationship or the communication has been there with Jim.
"So, I think what has to probably happen is sit Kobe down [and] Jim, sit him down [too] and say, 'Hey, Dr. Buss was the master at taking you to lunch or taking you to dinner and really going over what he thought about, or what he was thinking and what he wanted to do with the team and Jerry West was great at that as well.' Kobe, Mitch and Jim just got to get on the same page and it will be OK."
Magic has a point. How do the Lakers rationalize Kobe's complete exclusion from decision making when they're so tied into him? He isn't merely some role player, nor some aging star making more than his game is worth. Dude is 33 years old, due $83.5 million over this season and the next two, and giving us a season for the ages. He's a legitimate MVP candidate in his sixteenth season, and fans are so tied into him, that the Lakers would be stupid to not cater to whatever greatness Kobe has left. Every decision made right now should be made in relation to Kobe.
Should that mean that they should consult him on every roster move? No, after all the team will have to eventually move on without Kobe, and must make sure they are able to do so in the best manner possible. But what's to gain by (supposedly) repeatedly leaving a player of Kobe's stature out of the loop? In case Jimmy hasn't noticed, fans are dug in with Kobe. At least I am. Would it kill them to let him know something? Or have they, and is Kobe not willing to accept what they have planned? His overtures to Dwight Howard have been reported by Ric Bucher, Stephen A. Smith, and Adrien Wojnawrowski.
So far, Kobe's played the good soldier this season. He's said all of the right things regarding Mike Brown, not saying too much regarding his exclusion from the hiring process of Brown, he's praised Mike's work ethic, stayed relatively quiet after the Lakers gave away Odom, and gave Andrew Bynum his props. To top it off, he even publicly stated his faith in the front office's decision making. He vowed to leave it up to them and not interfere.
So why now Kobe? Ben R. has repeatedly reminded us that we shouldn't expect anything to happen until March 1st, since many of the players in the league can't even be traded until then. If Kobe's truly worried about Pau Gasol's fragile psyche, why make it public? Pau has been nothing but a true professional since being involved in the failed Chris Paul trade. No doubt, the lingering trade possibilities are lingering over his head, but he's proved he's willing to deal with it. How does Kobe making Pau's emotions a point of discussion for Lakers nation a positive thing?
I'm not even sure Kobe did Pau any favors. From here on out, so long as he's a Laker, we're going to focus on Pau's mental state. Deep down, I feel most Lakers fans have lost trust in Pau. No matter how great Pau may play game to game during the regular season, we worry about which Pau is going to show up in the playoffs. White swan, black swan. Whatever. Pau can no longer afford to have fans worrying about whether or not he'll handle the pressure. I think Kobe realizes this, and with the trade deadline fast approaching, Kobe has put Pau and the front office in the spotlight.
The Lakers aren't completely bad. They could use another piece or two, but if this team stayed as is (as opposed to a mega trade), it wouldn't be the worse thing in the world. I suppose I could be comfortable with this team to some degree, if in fact this is the team the Lakers plan on having for the rest of the season. I'll live with a minor tweak, I see the potential the Lakers do have as presently constructed. As an outsider looking in, I still feel as if I'm waiting to exhale though. I don't know what the Lakers' plans are, and it seems neither does Kobe, which explains his use of leverage through the media. I'm not so comfortable knowing the one guy the team needs to rely on is as clueless as we are. How is this team going to really gel? Does it even matter if they're looking better now? After last night's confusing crunch time play from Kobe (even for him), I'm left with the impression that improving team chemistry isn't a real goal so long as questions linger. So here we are, a night removed from the best road win the Lakers have had yet, and none of it really matters.
Take a deep breath. It's going to be a long wait until the trade deadline.