All-Star guard Kobe Bryant has not held back this week in voicing his displeasure… (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles…)
I worry the Lakers are going to be no good.
They couldn't win last year when they had Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom, and now both are gone with no one taking their places.
I worry the Lakers won't be as likable.
Lamar was the most likable Laker, maybe as friendly a pro athlete as this town has known.
The rest of the Lakers are not likable.
Kobe is a great player, but do you really think he's likable? I know something about being unlikable and he's really good at it. He's more angry, or so it seems, which is odd, knowing he's paid millions to play a game he loves.
Andrew Bynum isn't likable, ripping his shirt off in Dallas like some kind of punk, parking his fancy car in handicap spots and dismissing it as no big deal.
Derek Fisher isn't likable because no one wants him anymore as starting point guard, and the Lakers obviously don't like Pau Gasol after he disappeared in the playoffs, and last week they tried to trade him.
Ron Artest is goofy. Some people like that, but probably not anyone who would like to see him make a three-pointer. There's nothing to like about the way he shoots.
No one seems to like Jim Buss and most haven't met him. How likable can Lakers management be, trading Lamar with Bynum suspended for the first five games and no immediate deal in place to fill the void left by Lamar.
What if the Lakers are both unlikable and crummy this season?
Seemed like a nice way to begin the week with Kobe.
"You guys don't appear to be as good as last year," I say, and he doesn't roll his eyes, scoff or even glare.
"That's because we're probably not," Kobe says.
"Do you believe that, or are you just saying that [for yucks]?" I say in giving him the chance to maybe sound more positive. "Do you think you're as good?"
"No," Kobe says. "I think we're terrible . . . we're going to be worse."
So we agree, but I wonder if he's going to demand that management do better.
"No, not at all," Kobe says, "just stating the facts where we currently are."
I remind him he's gotten agitated in the past, his big baby episode coming to mind, and he says, "Then Mitch [Kupchak] traded Kwame Brown for Pau.
"Mitch has kind of earned the license to do whatever the hell he wants; he knows what he's doing."
So does the Lamar trade to Dallas make sense now that he's talked to Mitch?
"No, it still doesn't make sense to me," Kobe says.
If the Lakers remain status quo, I ask, what are their chances for success?
"None," he says, and so how is your day going?
I ask him, "What does it take then to be successful?"
Kobe says right away, "The dream team."
"So you want to go to Miami?" I ask.
"Trade me today," he says, and I think it's nice that we can agree on things.
I tell him the Lakers' word is Lamar was unhappy and asked to be traded, "but that happens all the time in sports," I say.
"They sure didn't listen to me when I asked to be traded," he says, and there you go.
"If they hadn't traded him," he says later, "there's no question he would have gotten over it."
So why were the Lakers in such a hurry to get rid of Lamar? A salary dump?
"We'll keep the train moving," Kobe says, his voice going boring as he switches into company man mode. "[Devin] Ebanks is going to step in there and fill it up . . . Ron [Artest's] responsibilities have kicked up and the train keeps moving."
So now the Lakers have become the little engine that could. Sorry, but I'm not buying Ebanks as the next Lamar, or Artest suddenly becoming consistent.
"Aren't you just selling us a bill of goods?" I say.
"I don't need to do that," Kobe fires back. "If I think a guy is a bum, he's a bum. When Smush [Parker] was here, I told you he was a bum."
"From day one?" I say with doubt.
"From day one I said he was a bum," Kobe says, and then he tells everyone that Luke Walton looks just fine.
I'm sure the Mavericks are quivering.
"Last I checked I still have Pau, Andrew and Ron; I kind of like my chances," Kobe says, as he's sometimes the ball hog, sometimes the facilitator, and sometimes saying one thing and then another in a matter of minutes.
"It wasn't enough last year to win a championship," I remind him, and he replies, "[Bad word]," although it fits the conversation.
I'm expecting a competitor like Kobe to roll around the floor, kicking his feet and demanding better players around him so he might win another title. Like everyone else, he must think the Lakers are still going to pull off the big deal.
But I know this, if Phil Jackson was still here, Lamar would be too.
"When you lose people," I persist, "you're just not as good."
"And you know more about basketball than I do?" Kobe says.
I didn't think it was the right place to argue, and he goes on to say, "Listen, San Antonio deals with the same things every year and they are always in contention."
So the Lakers have become the Spurs?
Media reports had an irritated Kobe — and when is he not irritated? — meeting with Kupchak earlier. The implication was Kobe wanted to let management know he wasn't happy about losing Lamar.
But Kupchak says they talked about Kobe's summer.
"And Lamar was never brought up?" I ask.
"It may have come up briefly," Kupchak says, but "no," Kobe did not come in to complain about Lamar moving on to Dallas.
I guess Kobe likes Ebanks more than any of us know.