Is it possible the Los Angeles Lakers, in one fell swoop, could lose everything? Is it possible we're watching what amounts to sports suicide? Phil Jackson has been fired. Shaquille O'Neal has been traded. And you can't help but wonder if Kobe Bryant, despite being handed the keys to the kingdom, will simply say, thanks but no thanks, turn his back to the ruins and walk.
It just keeps getting better and better every day. Today's news is always more delicious than yesterday's. And tomorrow's could be bizarre to the point it is implausible.
As weird as it is that Shaq has left Los Angeles for South Beach it's nothing compared with the possibility that Bryant, after all that has happened, might yet quit the Lakers. After getting everything he wants -- Jackson fired, Shaq traded and receiving an offer for more than $136 million -- Kobe might announce at 3 p.m. today that he's bolting the Lakers for the Clippers. Nothing about it sounds rational, but it could happen, though the most inexplicable part of this entire mess is why in the world the Lakers would trade Shaq before signing Kobe.
Jerry Buss has been a great owner for a long, long time. The Lakers have won eight championships on his watch. But he could be looking at a long, long drought now. Just like the Chicago Bulls, who six years ago ran off Jackson, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and haven't gotten a sniff of the playoffs since. We've seen plenty of evidence that Buss prefers Kobe over Shaq and Phil; now we'll find out whether Buss's infatuation is unrequited.
Like just about everybody in Southern California, I'm forced to try to read the body language of Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak. I'm stunned to hear Kupchak say it's a "very strong possibility" Bryant could leave the Lakers for the Clippers. I'm trying to figure out if Kupchak already knows the outcome of this latest episode when he mentions during a news conference that it's quite possible the Lakers will get nothing in return for Bryant. It seems akin to trying to prepare the metropolis for some really, really bad news that's coming down the pike.
The Bulls must have figured the Lakers were in such a pickle it might be possible to pry Kobe away with a sign-and-trade deal because, way under the radar, owner Jerry Reinsdorf and GM John Paxson courted Kobe to the point he was fascinated by this new option. Kobe to Chicago? What, like we don't have enough Michael-Kobe comparisons already without Kobe becoming the heir to Air? But Kupchak, presumably acting on the word of his boss, Buss, a notorious poker player, said no to the Bulls' offer. Kupchak said he wasn't going to trade Kobe and apparently is sticking to his story. ESPN's Jim Gray, who gets it right 100 percent of the time when it comes to Kobe news because Gray is talking directly to Kobe, dropped that little bombshell last night, as well as the news that Kobe will be making his decision known today.
A week ago, nobody in his right mind believed Bryant would leave one of the most successful franchises in sports history to join one of the worst. Yet, why would the Clippers guarantee home games a few miles from Kobe's house in Newport Beach and continue to create salary cap room unless they knew they were really and truly in the chase for Kobe? By morning, a good friend jokes, the Clippers will have offered to change the spelling of the team's name to the Klippers and have banned anybody from wearing No. 34 (Shaq's number) ever again.
No, this isn't the only news worth reporting in the NBA. Kenyon Martin will likely take $82 million or so to join the Denver Nuggets. The Nets have 15 days to match or come up with a trade, but it appears Martin is going to wind up playing alongside Carmelo Anthony. You think Anthony doesn't have a big advantage over LeBron James now?
In what appears to be one of the great low-rent moves ever, Carlos Boozer is apparently going to take $68 million from the Utah Jazz, but only because the Cleveland Cavaliers generously let him out of a $975,000 contract, thinking Boozer would be appreciative enough to re-sign with them for $41 million. Think another team will ever try to do a favor for a second-round pick again? And do you stand to make more money in Utah than you would, ultimately, playing alongside LeBron, who now waves bye-bye to a teammate who last year grabbed 121/2 rebounds per game. The Cavaliers certainly have to be feeling a bit, well, abused right now. Unless Boozer says there's something else to this story, he appears to have pulled off one of the bodacious moves ever. It's already led to the resignation or firing of Boozer's agent, Rob Pelinka, who just happens to be agent-advisor to -- Kobe!
These other moves would be nice little stories usually, especially on the day after the MLB All-Star Game, a day traditionally thought of as the slowest day of the year in sports. But not with Shaq officially becoming a member of the Miami Heat. Shaq, in a conversation with ESPN -- his first public remarks since the deal -- said the Lakers were making "drastic changes, some changes that I didn't want to be a part of." And he made it very clear he was "very upset" at having to hear on ESPN that Jackson had been fired. He said the Lakers were interested in doing things "their way and not the right way."
Anyway, Miami becomes a contender instantly because Shaq will be playing with a kid, Dwyane Wade, who'll be thrilled to have him and a bunch of role players, including Eddie Jones, who'll play to please.
The irony here is that the Lakers got back so relatively little in return -- Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant -- that Kobe may look at the Clippers' roster and decide he likes them better. After all, the Clippers have Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Chris Wilcox, center Chris Kaman and kid draft pick Shaun Livingston.
The Lakers, by comparison, have no all-stars, will almost certainly lose Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Derek Fisher. And their best player, Odom, will be one puff from a drug suspension. It's hard to believe that on the night the Lakers were knocked out of the NBA Finals by the Pistons that their drama would have become so much bigger and the franchise could have found lower ground in one month. But here they are teetering, their owner resting in Italy, and all of us watching breathlessly and being entertained in a way the great Los Angeles Lakers never, ever intended.