Kobe Bryant: Is This the End of the Line in L.A.?

Kevin NesgodaCorrespondent IMay 23, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 21:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on against the Denver Nuggets in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 21, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

To me, the NBA playoffs are missing a little something this year.

I’m not sure what it is exactly, but they are missing some sort of sub-plot that could take this whole last month of the playoffs to a whole other level.

We need a story that could be talked about during every game and be so beaten into the ground that we don’t want to hear it anymore.

We could continue to talk about how LeBron is going to be a Knick in 2010. Especially if they get Steph Curry who is LeBron’s BFF. But that has been talked about way too much and everyone is already sick of hearing it, especially those in Cleveland.

That city has enough heartbreak to deal with anyway, so we’ll just let Cleveland be.

They’re already paranoid enough.

We could talk about Carmelo taking it to another level, though a nice story, I’d like to see how next season goes for him. Let’s see if he can crack the top 5 in the MVP race.

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I got it! I know exactly what we should be talking about!

What happens to the Lakers, say if they lose to Denver in five games?

Let’s actually take another step in this and make it a little more specific.

What happens to Kobe if the Lakers lose to Denver in say, maybe five games?

Does he opt out, does he come back for one more season and becomes part of the vaunted 2010 free agency class?

I don’t know what think will happen exactly with Kobe, but I do know that playing for a team that has no shot at a title will not sit very well with him. He did that right after Shaq left and the Lakers were rebuilding to get to where they are now.

Remember how frustrated he was with all of that? You think at this stage of his career he wants to rebuild again?

You think that if he has to play another year with Sasha “I Party More Than Vinny Chase” Vujacic that we won’t find Sasha dead in a desert just before the season starts?

Maybe Kobe will opt out and force Mitch Kupchak’s hand like he did back in 2004 and get some players around him that can win and want to win.

Lamar Odom is a great guy and teammate, but he doesn’t have that killer instinct and the drive to be a championship-caliber player.

Andrew Bynum shows flashes of brilliance, but he can’t string enough games together to warrant that $12.5M contract a year. 

Derek Fisher shouldn’t be called Derek Fisher anymore. He should just be referred to as the corpse of Derek Fisher.

What if Kobe does opt out and the Lakers just decide to move on without him?

There is enough talent in the 2009 free agency class to restock and be competitive and wait for the 2010 draft class.

Get Shawn Marion, Ben Gordon and maybe Allen Iverson for next season and then try for Wade, James or Bosh.

If you can’t get either of them, there is always Kevin Durant. He’s a restricted free agent in 2010, OKC won’t be able to afford him and Nike is going to want him in a city where he can be marketable.

Los Angeles would be perfect for him, and Nike could actually start giving him campaigns again.

So in 2010 you could potentially be looking at a line-up of Gasol, Marion, Durant, Gordon and a Farmar/Brown combo. That would have a great make-up of young and old.

You have two guys you could run plays for in Durant and Gordon. Gasol is a great third player in this mix, with Marion playing clean up like he did in Phoenix and Farmar and Brown hopefully not making too many mistakes.

What would happen to Kobe if he were to opt out though, where would he go?

Detroit would have the most cap room, but there is no way he would ever live in Detroit. Memphis could try, but their owner doesn’t like to spend money. There is OKC, but if Rubio isn’t going to go there, would Kobe?

Miami doesn’t have the cap space, especially if they work out the Wade extension as expected this summer.

The Knicks still have one more year of clearing pieces to fix the cap situation. He’d fun in Golden State with Anthony Randolph and Monta Ellis. Maybe trade Kobe for Jamal Crawford and draft picks? I really don’t see that happening though.

There is the prospects of playing in Italy and being paid $50M a year until he can’t run anymore. I don’t see that as an acceptable solution to Kobe, though.

I bet he would see that as tucking his tail and accepting that he could no longer get it done in the NBA and running away.

Then there is the most likely destination, a team that could have just enough cap room, a team with a young nucleus and enough talent, on the verge of something great and just needing that one little thing to push them over the top.

That team would be the Chicago Bulls.

The idea was flirted with back in 2004. To the point that some people thought it was a done deal and Kobe would be ruling the United Center currently in these playoffs.

Kobe could show these young Bulls the work ethic and desire they need to take it to the next level. Derrick Rose would be a better player because of it, Luol Deng would be a better player because of it. The Bulls even have depth on the bench.

It would be a perfect fit.

What most likely will happen though?

Kobe stays and Odom, Vujacic and Ariza aren’t on the team next year and the Lakers are once again out in the first round. But they save themselves a ton of money and could be major players in 2010.

Kobe and LeBron anyone?