While the Laker have offered Bryant the maximum money possible (a three-year extension worth $86 to $91 million), Bryant has yet to sign on the dotted line. He's currently under contract until July 2011, but can opt out after this season and leave the Lakers with a glaring hole at shooting guard and an even bigger hole in the hearts of Laker fans everywhere.
I know what a lot of you are thinking: Why would he do that? How could Bryant turn his back on a team this good? On a team that he just won a title with? That stood by him during his Colorado trial? That chose him over Shaq in the summer of 2004? That could easily pay him more money than any other team in the NBA?
The answer is not a simple one, but true Laker fans and followers of Bryant's career know deep down that anything is possible when it comes to the Black Mamba. Let's not forget that we're talking about one of the most egotistical players in NBA history.
This is the same guy who launched three consecutive airballs at the end of a decisive game in his first playoff appearance with the Lakers (when he was still a bench player). The same guy who demanded the Lakers trade Bynum, and when they didn't, demanded that he get traded and then tried to dictate the terms of that trade. The same guy who once stopped playing offense during a game to prove a point to his teammates and the media.
This is not to say that Kobe isn't a talented player. I'll be the first to admit that he's one of the top players in the league right now. That he not only deserves the maximum money the Lakers are offering him, but probably even a stake in the franchise and a statue in front of the Staples Center.
But this isn't about a question of his talent, it's a question of his character. Kobe believes in no one more than he believes in himself. This is what strikes fear into the hearts of his opponents and also, the hearts of most Laker fans.
The New York Knicks may seem like the worst possible destination for a player of Kobe's caliber, but that's exactly why it's the perfect situation for him. What better way to prove that he's the greatest player in history than to bring championship glory back to the lowly Knicks franchise?
Kobe's love affair with New York, Madison Square Garden and Spike Lee has already been established. His respect for Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni was only strengthened during last year's Olympics in China. D'Antoni was Bryant's favorite player growing up as a kid in Italy. He even chose to wear the No. 8 early in his career because it was D'Antoni's old jersey number with Olimpia Milano.
Now I recognize that this could all be a moot point if the Lakers are able to win another title this year. Kobe Bryant may be crazy, but he isn't stupid. The chance to win three rings in a row, possibly more, would do more for his ego than the opportunity to single-handedly turn around a franchise.
But if they don't win the title this year, then all bets are off and my prediction may very well become a reality—Kobe Bryant, not LeBron James, will be in a Knicks uniform this time next season.
And Laker fans will be left with the following frightening PA announcement at the start of their games: "And starting at shooting guard, from Slovenia, No. 18... Saaashaaa Vujacic!"
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