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T.J. Simers

What does Manny Ramirez have that Kobe Bryant doesn't?

For starters, Kobe doesn't have a $25-million contract offer on the table.

February 03, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

FROM NEW YORK — How often do you hear me say this? "Good for the Dodgers."

I'm sitting here beside one of the great stages in sports, Kobe Bryant, as we learned Monday night by way of comparison, an underpaid superstar about to set a Madison Square Garden record for most points scored, and Scott Boras is calling.

Boras might be an agent capable of squeezing every last dollar out of teams like no other, but his timing is just dreadful.

The Dodgers have offered Manny Ramirez $25 million for one year, and while Boras would say later in the evening he has already informed the Dodgers that Ramirez has rejected their offer, he still wanted to chat about the pros and cons of such an arrangement.

We understand the pros, $25 million pretty much covering that, while the con, of course, is the continuing speculation that there are other teams out there ready to pounce on Ramirez and sign him. So who is stopping them?

Now Bryant's not poor, but the Lakers are paying him a little more than $21.2 million this season, and as compelling as Manny can be with bat in hand, when Bryant has a night like he did against the Knicks, it's epic.

That's why folks go to games, always hoping they will see something special and even memorable, the crowd here chanting, "MVP," and they weren't singling out any of their beloved Knicks.

Bryant scored seven of the first eight points for the Lakers, 13 of the first 16, and after finishing the first half with 34, Coach Phil Jackson, the party-pooper who kept him in an earlier game from scoring 90, talked to him.

"I told him to get everyone involved," Jackson said, "which didn't happen."

And the fans couldn't have been more pleased. Bryant -- in other games, the facilitator, sometimes not taking a shot for long minutes at times -- on this night played as if he had just read the record book and had one goal in mind.

At halftime, he went to the bench and sat by himself, his head down atop crossed arms, his expression as focused as the final minute in a tied playoff game.

"I noticed it, too," said Jackson, who watched Michael Jordan put up 55 points here. "His mood was very somber."

Bryant said he was motivated to score 61 by the injury to Andrew Bynum, Madison Square Garden, Spike Lee and the Olympic trash talk exchange with his good buddy Mike D'Antoni, the Knicks coach who worked as an Olympic team assistant.

For some reason the appearance of Whoopi Goldberg did nothing for him.

Bryant can opt out of his contract after this season, and he might want to consider hiring Boras, because Bryant is due to earn only $23 million next season and $24.8 million in 2010 -- still shy of Manny's $25-million offer.

Now that's why I love this deal.

The Dodgers appeared cheap when throwing $45 million at Ramirez for two years a few months back, and had there been any other interest, they would have been condemned for blowing it.

But they gambled successfully and found the market for his services limited. Based on what he meant to the Dodgers, making them relevant again for the first time in two decades, it could be argued Ramirez deserves a long-term deal.

But so far it's not there, which makes this one-year offer for $25 million a win-win for both parties. Most teams are reluctant to sign Ramirez because they don't know what they might get. One more year might go a long way in proving himself worth any kind of supposed risk.

As for the Dodgers, who have been inexplicably tight this off-season and appear to lack the pitching to be a serious contender, $25 million buys them fan loyalty.

Now that Ramirez has rejected the Dodgers' offer, Boras said it's a clear sign there are other teams interested in offering Ramirez more. He will no doubt try to turn the Dodgers' one-year offer into two or three years elsewhere.

If successful, the Dodgers lose, because they really don't have much to offer the fans the way the team is currently constructed. But as business deals go, with everyone in L.A. aware of what Bryant means to the Lakers, it's hard to argue the Dodgers are doing anything wrong when they offer to pay Ramirez more.

WELL, HERE we go again, maybe Lamar Odom's last hurrah with the Lakers, and who knows what we're going to get.

Never do with Odom, who jokingly referred to himself as an "enigma to a lot of people" before returning to the starting lineup in place of an injured Bynum.

Odom's points, rebounds and minutes are down this year, and he becomes a free agent at season's end, $14.1 million coming off the books, and Odom probably would be asked to take a pay cut if he wants to return. So is this it, the final audition and search maybe for some hint of consistency?

"No, just playing basketball," Odom said.

That's not good enough, which was mentioned to Odom, who said, "OK, then it starts now. Twenty shots tonight, and I'm going to be more aggressive."

Fast forward to the start of the fourth quarter, Odom getting ready to inbound the ball, but turning to the media area with a grin to say, "won't be 20 shots tonight."

No, not on a night when Bryant is taking 31, everyone else doing what they can to get him the ball. Odom took nine shots, scored six points, but pulled down 14 rebounds.

"I'm the only guy I know who can get 17 rebounds and then have people say I was not aggressive," Odom said. "Now we've got people asking how we're going to do without Bynum. Last year we came within a half of winning it all."

Maybe so, but first the Lakers have three more considerable tests this week, with Odom on the spot to keep everyone from asking when Bynum will be returning.

One more chance to make his case that he belongs with the Lakers for years to come. "I don't know what anybody else thinks, but I think I'm a pretty good player," Odom said, so here we go, let's see.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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