More than three months removed from a series of trade requests, Kobe Bryant is still a Los Angeles Laker.
Kevin Garnett won't be joining him this season. Neither will Zach Randolph. Even a trade for oft-injured Jermaine O'Neal seems unlikely.
Determined ESPN.com analyst Chris Sheridan, covering the U.S. National Team's triumphant run to Olympic qualification, learned that Kobe's taken his fight in-house. No more battles through the media, just some friendly conversation between Bryant, Jerry Buss and Mitch Kupchak. We don't know if rumored soon-to-be retired coach Phil Jackson still has a seat at this table.
So what's next for Kobe?
For starters, it's clear to anyone who watched him with the National Team that he's focused like he's never been focused before.
In 10 games against outmatched competition, he passed, he supported teammates, he played defense, he did whatever the team needed him to do to win.
He played a lot like Michael Jordan.
Often times at BleacherReport, we talk about the importance of urgency—and at age 30, 11 years into a wearing-and-tearing NBA career, Bryant can hear the clock ticking.
It's amazing how urgency allows you to cut through the b.s. to do whatever it takes.
But it's also clear that "whatever it takes" isn't in the cards with the Los Angeles Lakers. The chance to do "whatever it takes" ended with a string of injuries and bad blood spanning the 2006-07 season.
Regardless of what I think of Bryant's off-court tactics, as a fan of the game, it's difficult to watch the greatest player of a generation wither away on a soon-to-be much-maligned team. The Kobe Bryant's of the world just don't come around very often—not with this talent, this work ethic, and now this tremendous drive and understanding of what it takes to win.
To summarize: It's time to get Kobe out of Los Angeles and into Chicago.
The Bulls are rumored to be at the top of Bryant's "want list." They're also one of the few teams that have the resources to pull off a trade of this magnitude.
If Kobe goes to Chicago, it's clear that Ben Gordon has a future in purple and gold. The undersized two-guard is Chicago's go-to scorer and plays the same position as No. 24.
So say goodbye Ben.
Tyrus Thomas can also pack his bags. The Los Angeles faithful aren't easily impressed, but acquiring the explosively athletic Thomas is a perfect way to keep them entertained. And though he isn't a great fit for the triangle, Thomas has enough upside to think ahead to days when Phil Jackson spends more of his time fishing.
Now for the tough one: For Kupchak and Buss to pull the trigger, the deal would almost certainly have to include rising small forward Luol Deng.
A 6'9" 22-year-old with a long wingspan and a great midrange game, Deng is poised to become a perennial All-Star. He plays hard, and has demonstrated consistent improvement during his time in the NBA. Chicago decision-makers John Paxson and Jerry Krause will be hard-pressed to give him up.
Even for the league's best player.
Now most Bulls fans are moaning and groaning about giving up too much. And to be fair, you are giving up a lot. But there are two reasons why it's the right move: money and timing.
You have Ben Wallace under contract at about $16 million a year for three more seasons. You have Kirk Hinrich under contract for five more years at about $11 million per season. And you just signed Andres Nocioni to a five-year deal at roughly $8 million a season.
These three contracts alone account for over half of your payroll ($35 million out of about $65 million) for the next three seasons.
Now how on earth are you going to pay Gordon and Deng when their contracts expire at the end of 07'-08'?
They'll both command between $10 and $13 million a season (perhaps a little more for Deng if he has a great year), which combined with the rest of the Bulls' salary commitments puts Chicago well into the realm of luxury tax hell.
Instead, you make the trade for Bryant, ask him to take a $3 million paycut to make the salaries work (a small price to pay for having a real shot at winning championships), and stay under the cap.
The Bulls have made their bed with Hinrich and Nocioni (entering the prime of their careers) and Wallace (at the tail end of his prime). When you have that much money invested in "the now", it doesn't make sense to wait around for Deng and Thomas to turn into superstars. By the time they do, LeBron James will have three championships, and Chicago will be permanently stuck in a purgatory otherwise known as "the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs."
Instead, you buy the last five great years of Kobe Bryant's career and go for the jugular now.
Here's how the lineup shakes out:
Point Guard: Kirk Hinrich
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Small Forward: Andres Nocioni
Power Forward: Joe Smith
Center: Ben Wallace
Key Reserves: Chris Duhon (PG), Thabo Sefolosha (SG/SF), Joakim Noah (PF/C)
In the tradition of the great Bulls teams of the 90s, the success of this roster is dependent on their experience, toughness, and defensive prowess. With an impassioned Bryant on the floor, and with Scott Skiles at the helm, the 2007-08 Chicago Bulls would become instant contenders.
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