T h i s i m p r o b a b l e championship run by the Lakers is due almost entirely to the talent and drive of Kobe Bryant. The forces of the universe aligned themselves to make his victory possible, but he still had to earn it. At the beginning of the season, the Boston Celtics were the favorites to repeat as champions. They had a great coach, a strong starting five, and rapidly improving reserve players. There did not seem to be any team in the NBA that could stop them. They expected to be challenged by the Cavaliers, the Hawks, the Magic, and the Lakers. However, in the end they were expected to prevail.
Then, during the season, the Celtics lost KG, their best defensive player and the emotional leader of the team. He suffered a season ending knee injury. There was no absolute guarantee that the Celtics would win with him, but it was unlikely that they would survive if he was unable to play. This improved the chances for all of the contenders, but which one would take advantage of this situation? I did a new analysis of the situation, and picked King James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the title. It turns out that I was wrong, as my brother, Mr. New Yorker, has called to remind me. The Cavaliers had the best record in the NBA, and this gave them the home fi eld advantage. Even Rogers will be wrong sometimes. In any case, the obsessive Bryant simply willed his team to victory. When there problems and doubts, he remained steadfast. He would accept nothing less than a championship, and in the end, that is what he got.
The fans of the Lakers would like to be able to savor this victory for a few months, or even a few weeks. They would like to prolong pleasure, the way you do with your favorite food, or with a kiss. However, the end of the Parade will be the beginning of the Free Agency negotiations. Bryant, Odum, and Ariza are free to leave the team, if they choose to do so. Since Bryant is already a member of their organization, they can offer him a fi ve-year contract for a $135 million. No other team in the NBA can offer him as much money as that. Under normal circumstances, you would then expect the issue to be closed. However, things are rarely easy with the obsessed, attention seeking Bryant.
Even if he remains here, he is likely to torture the Lakers and their fans for at least a little while. For example, he is likely to enter negotiations with teams in either Europe or China, to see if he can get something in the area of $50 million per year. I don't think that he would actually go there and play on any of those teams, but I do think that he has a real need to be begged his stay in Los Angeles. Nearly everyone in the Lakers organization kneels in his presence, but that does not seem to be enough for him. I have been wrong before, but I will be surprised, no shocked, if he simply signs a fi ve-year contract for a paltry $135 million.
I think that the Lakers would be wise to say goodbye to Odom and Walton and bring in a player like Carlos Boozer or Shane Battier. The team could use some more inside muscle. They could also ask the great Pau Gasol to spend a little less time with his hair stylist and a little more in the weight room. They also need to fi nd a way to keep Andrew Bynum out of the Playboy Club.