If it hasn't happened already, it's fair to say that ESPN NBA analyst/reporter Ric Bucher just fell out of Kobe Bryant's so-called "circle of trust."
That's the phrase Bryant coined years ago in describing reporters he allows in his inner circle because they'll fairly cover him. Some skeptics would contend that the reporters in the circle of trust won't ever challenge Bryant in exchange for favorable access. Bucher, a past Bryant confidant, proposed Tuesday on ESPN's "SportsCenter" the most absurd trade scenario the Lakers should consider leading into the March 15 deadline. That involved shipping off Bryant so they could rid themselves of his three-year, $83.5-million contract and invest more for the future.
The scenario is unrealistic since Bryant has a no-trade clause and he's not exactly going on a radio tour like he did five years ago demanding the Lakers ship him elsewhere. Regardless of whether he's in the tail-end of his career, Bryant's still averaging a league-leading 28.9 points while nursing a torn ligament in his right wrist, wearing a plastic mask to protect his tender nose and tolerating neck pain. And seriously, we're talking about Kobe Bryant. Unless the Lakers just want to start a riot in L.A. and become a punch line just for kicks, there's no reason to trade the franchise player.
Even packaging Bryant for another superstar wouldn't work. Bryant's $25.24 million salary exceeds other stars' pay, such as Dwight Howard ($17.88 million), Kevin Durant ($16.32 million) and LeBron James ($16.02 million). Teams with a younger superstar will want to keep them for the long-term investment. And shipping off Bryant would fundamentally change the Lakers so much that it would have to involve a multiple-player package that would become too complicated to execute.
Lakers fans are plenty skeptical about the front office, including executive Jim Buss. The brass' failure to consult Bryant on hiring Mike Brown as the coach and refusal keep him in the loop on much of everything clearly sends a message that he's no longer the golden child. But the team won't go as far as trading him to make that clear.
Bryant has said adamantly that he wants to remain a Laker for life, and there's no reason to think the Lakers don't feel the same way.