Kobe Bryant's pressure on management could have mixed implications
With a stern look and an agitated tone, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant hardly opened the 2011-2012 season in a happy mood.
"I don't like it," Bryant said regarding the Lakers' decision to trade Lamar Odom and a second round pick to the Dallas Mavericks for a $8.9 million trade exception and a first-round pick. There were plenty of reasons. The Lakers lost a reserve whose versatility extended from his jack-of-all trades role to his strong locker-room standing. The Lakers received little in return. Dallas, who eliminated the Lakers in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals en route to an NBA title, benefitted from it.
Even though Bryant met Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak shortly afterwards, Kupchak said the Lakers' star didn't bring up the Odom trade much and that his temperament remained pleasant. Bryant suggested as much when he still maintained a vote of confidence for the Lakers' front office.
Bryant's attempted balancing act beween supporting his teammates and staying out of front office dealings tipped the scale, however, following the Lakers' 102-90 loss Sunday over the Phoenix Suns. For the second time in a week, Bryant brought up the emotional state Pau Gasol feels over whether the Lakers will trade him before the March 15 deadline. This time, however, Bryant spoke about the situatuon with an ultimatum.
"I wish management would come out and either trade him or not trade him," Bryant told reporters. "It’s just tough for a player to give his all when you don’t know if you’re going to be here tomorrow. I'd rather them not trade him at all but if they’re going to do something, I wish they would just ... do it."
It remains unclear what Bryant's strong comments actually accomplishes.
On a practical level, Bryant's remarks on the mixed signals the Lakers' front office provide ring true. In a 33-minute interview with reporters following the Odom trade, Kupchak said he expected the Lakers' roster to remain intact, but that they will continue to "pursue big deals." He recently told Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick he doesn't expect a trade to happen, but made it clear the front office is still trying to do so. Bryant's message also sends a warning not to botch giving away one of the team's top players the same way the Lakers shipped Odom out.
But let's be real. That's how a front office works. It's not as if the front office is wavering on whether they want to keep Gasol or not. If they could get Deron Williams in a deal, I'd imagine they would'nt break a sweat involving Gasol as a centerpiece. But most other deals hardly warrants sending El Spaniard away. Hence, the continuous uncertainty leading into the deadline.
Nonetheless, Bryant's willingness to finally break his frustrations regarding the front office hardly proves reactionary. He's been privately stewing since the season started. But Bryant remained hopeful Gasol could play through the uncertainty. He thought the front office would bring more clarity to how they're shaping the roster. And Bryant's insistance on focusing on learning Mike Brown's system sent a clear message for his teammates to think the same way.
None of that has worked out as planned. It remains to be seen whether Bryant's increased support for Gasol and pressure on management will as well.
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Photo: Suns guard Shannon Brown takes off down court after Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was called for traveling during the game Sunday in Phoenix. Credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images / February 19, 2012