A very interesting trade rumor being thrown around recently involves the New York Knicks sending Amare Stoudemire to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kobe Bryant.
The thought process behind it? The Knicks get rid of Stoudemire who is at best a useful bench players these days while adding Kobe Bryant to Carmelo Anthony, which means that all of a sudden, the Knicks look more than a borderline playoff team. I’m not quite sure it puts Bryant in the best position possible for him to win championships because it also cripples the Knicks for next summer in terms of salary cap, but it means he can win more games than he can with the Lakers this season, according to what we’ve seen so far.
What do the Lakers get out of it? A chance for a clean slate. There’s always the Sam Hinkie, Philadelphia 76ers route for these things: Trading away every piece of value for draft picks and clearing cap space, hoping that the decisions they make through the draft over the course of two or three years puts together a team that can be an attractive spot for lucrative free agents. The Lakers, just by name, don’t usually need to do all that juggling, but they’ve come to a point in which they might be better off without the best player in the history of the franchise, although that’s arguable. Both claims are.
But this has been discussed before. There’s the simple, very basic reason why this won’t happen: Kobe Bryant has a no-trade clause in his contract, making it impossible to move him without his consent. And it’s also impossible to move him because Bryant isn’t worth the money he’s getting in terms of production. No other team will take his contract on unless it’s really at the end of the deal, doing it for expiring purposes. Bryant is as immovable as it gets when it comes to NBA players.
But there’s more. As much as the Lakers have been criticized for giving Bryant the $48 million, two-year deal or for not using the amnesty clause on him when they had the chance, there’s more to this than simply value and finances. Bryant symbolizes something for the Lakers. He means more than just a superstar player to the team and the city. Keeping him shows and tells something about loyalty, and about how the Lakers take care of their own.
Bryant has said a number of times he has no problem staying and sticking through the bad times. He’s been with the Lakers through the successful years, he can do with a little of bottom feeding. He did miss the playoffs in the year after O’Neal left, and failed to get past the first round of the playoffs before things got easier in 2008 when Pau Gasol arrived. He knows and has tasted what bad seasons are all about.
One thing that is interesting has to do with his patience. How willing is Bryant to accept that this season the Lakers are going nowhere, and maybe next season as well? He really wants that sixth NBA title ring, and it’s not going to happen in 2015 or 2016 while he plays for the Lakers. Maybe Bryant is here to make it 20 years with the Lakers, a special achievement. Maybe he’s sticking around to become the greatest scorer in NBA history. Doable if he doesn’t get injured and sticks around long enough.
For the Lakers, the ship of severing their ties with him has sailed a long time ago. Bryant is still their best player, but one that’s costing them too much in terms of money and in terms of flexibility of improving the roster. Trading him is almost impossible, which makes the ideas and rumors about a potential next destination slightly futile and meaningless. Bryant isn’t going anywhere, even if it might be good for him and and the Lakers to part ways.