Before Lakers owner Jerry Buss stepped onto a plane for a vacation in China, he spent some time on the phone with his franchise player.
It was Day 6 of the ever-evolving Kobe Bryant ordeal, time for the Buss family patriarch to try to patch the holes that had been created.
"I talked with Kobe this morning and assured him that I share his frustration and, more importantly, I assured him that we will continue to pursue every avenue possible to improve our team with him as the cornerstone," Buss said in a statement released by the team.
"I told him that we will keep him apprised of our progress and we agreed that we will talk again in the very near future."
In other words, Bryant's not going anywhere, even if things are still unsteady when Buss returns from a three-week vacation that begins in Shanghai.
Bryant, increasingly frustrated with the direction of the team, said during a radio binge Wednesday that he wanted to be traded. He still has four years and $88.6 million left on his contract, but he can void the deal in two years.
Independent of his main complaint that more talent is needed on the roster, the Lakers had already begun canvassing the league to see who is and isn't available for trades. Teams that are eliminated from the playoffs can trade with each other, of which 27 of 30 currently fit the profile.
The Lakers had an exploratory talk with the Indiana Pacers about six-time All-Star forward-center Jermaine O'Neal, although nothing was accomplished. The Lakers have not spoken with New Jersey about Jason Kidd and are not expected to resurrect the lukewarm conversations they had with the Nets before the trade deadline in February. Minnesota forward Kevin Garnett is still considered to be the longest of all longshots.
The bulk of the Lakers' front office was in Orlando, Fla., for the pre-draft camp, where General Manager Mitch Kupchak's cellphone was ringing continually, with questions from league personnel all sounding the same: Was Bryant \o7really\f7 serious about wanting to be traded?
Back home in El Segundo, the Lakers' offices continued to get flooded with e-mails and phone calls. Since Bryant began his trade demands, 500 e-mails have been received from season-ticket holders and 90% have been in favor of keeping him.
The Lakers have tried to keep season-ticket holders in the loop with daily e-mails that included Buss' statements, and they have reached out to some corporate sponsors and high-profile business partners with a simple message: We're not trading Kobe.
The organization realizes it has the most dynamic player in the league. His departure could create a ripple effect, including lower TV ratings and a decrease in attendance.
Lakers season-ticket holders renewed at a 97% rate before the 2006-07 season, an astounding number that would be tough to match next season if Bryant left. Furthermore, Bryant had the league's top-selling jersey this season and remained one of the top draws on the road.
It made Buss' Thursday morning conversation with Bryant that much more important.
As Bryant began to get more and more dissatisfied over the last week, Buss managed to keep his emotions out of the equation, living up to his reputation as a savvy poker player. During the conversation, Buss didn't reveal any imminent acquisitions for the Lakers, perhaps a sticking point with the nine-time All-Star, who was not available for comment after he spoke with Buss.
On the other hand, the fact that Buss didn't order the front office to begin shopping Bryant after the meeting was an indicator that the conversation itself wasn't ruinous.
This week obviously hasn't been easy for Buss or Bryant. Neither has the month of May, which began with another failed attempt to get out of the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers haven't played into mid-June since advancing to the Finals in 2004.
"Dr. Buss wants to win because his summers have been messed up, too," said Magic Johnson, who won five championships with the Lakers as a player and is now a minority owner. "I can understand why Kobe's frustrated. I love the kid. He is the ultimate competitor. He's the one kid in this league who really wants to win every game, every championship."