Today Sam Smith has his regular speculative yet entertaining article in the Chicago Tribune saying that Z-Bo is definitely getting traded, and probably soon. Jermaine O'Neil's name is in all the papers. And names like Bibby, Artest, Marion, Jamison and Garnett (oooh... says the crowd) are present day after day. Just the sheer number of rumors with these guys points to movement. It is not regular, I really feel that. And it is exhilarating because there has been a total lack of substantive movement in the past year. Even the "BIG" Iverson deal really did nothing for the Nuggets, and what it did to the Sixers is too subtle for most fans to care about.
What is fascinating about the Kobe thing is that there is a definite perception that the Lakers cannot get fair value for him. I don't know if that is true. As Bill Simmons pointed out on his long blog piece on trading Kobe a few weeks ago, when you trade a superstar you usually end up getting fleeced. But in the same piece Simmons proposes a number of trades that would seem to improve the Lakers. For instance Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, and the #11 pick help the Lakers in the long run more than Kobe and Vlad Radmanovic do. Likewise Deng, Gordon, and the #9 pick make the Lakers better than they currently are. One trade he did not propose but would be interesting to us (but not happening) would be Paul Pierce and the #5 pick for Kobe. This would also probably improve the Lakers.
Simmons' point in the piece is that the team that receives the superstar vastly improves. But this dramatic improvement on occasion can make the trade look more lopsided than it really is. For instance Shaq sent the Heat to the conference finals with an MVP-like performance in '04-'05, and the Heat won it all the next year (when Shaq was no longer their best player.) But what is usually left unsaid is that the Lakers received two all-star caliber players (Lamar Odom and Caron Butler) in the deal and Shaq basically strong-armed the Heat into granting him a preposterous extension that pays him $20 million a year till 2010. Jerry Buss supposedly was wise enough to know that giving Shaq an extension was insane, and did acquire two great talents in return. The problem with the deal was that Lakers management and Kobe proceeded to squander the unique excellence of Odom and utterly waste Caron Butler (traded after one year for Kwame "lets throw a cake at someone" Brown.)
The Shaq example is just to spell out that trades are not always as lopsided as they seem -although they often are. But trading Kobe should not fall in this unwanted category, because Kobe is such a uniquely talented yet unblendable player. His style is so selfish by nature that to see him carry a team over the top as the undisputed number one guy seems highly unlikely. He is no Kareem, Moses or Shaq - centers who controlled the game from a fundamental standpoint and therefore positively helped all their teammates on the floor. Kobe instead is a scoring machine like no one this generation has ever seen, so explosive and volatile that his individual exploits can leave an entire opposition in the dust when all the cylinders are working. But the cylinders usually are not all firing, and his effect on teammates wavers from hurtful to neutral to mildly uplifting.
It is way too late to call Kobe on the effect he has on his teammates, it simply is who he is as a player, and at this stage it just needs to be accepted. But to say that he can take a team to the championship like Tim Duncan or Shaq is being too kind. Maybe it could work in Chicago with all the young talent they have, in some new age Bad Boys type way, but I doubt it. You got to remember, the reason the Lakers lost in the Finals of 2004 to Detroit was because of Kobe. With Shaq still in his prime and an ample supporting cast of Malone, Payton etc. the Lakers should have easily handled the Pistons. Instead they almost got swept, with Kobe playing some stupendously selfish basketball. Kobe is not a team player, and he cannot be even if he wants to be. So this anomalous star can be traded away with fair value coming in return.