The 2014-2015 NBA season is not a week old, but that hasn’t prevented suggestions that Kobe Bryant’s future with the Los Angeles Lakers may be in doubt. The superstar guard is not expected to be content with the team’s current roster, and may consider a move to a more competitive team as the Lakers consider rebuilding options.
There is precedent for Bryant not being content with the Lakers, and requesting a trade. In 2007, Bryant voiced his frustration with the team’s standing as a mere playoff contender, telling reporter Stephen A. Smith how he wanted to move on. While Bryant would later backtrack slightly, there were many suggestions that he was still simmering about the talent around him. Months later, All-Star power forward Pau Gasol was acquired in a package deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. The trade would help the Lakers reach the finals in three consecutive seasons, winning two titles, and basically silencing any notion that Bryant would take his talents to another team.
But at age 36, time is running out for Bryant to make another title run, a goal he has made no secret he still pines for in his 19th professional season. Bryant clearly needs an improved cast, and the chances of landing an All-Star teammate during the season are extremely slim. Meanwhile, the Lakers may have no other choice but to rebuild following news that Julius Randle and Steve Nash will miss the season due to injury, and perhaps need to start contemplating their future without Bryant.
Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel went so far as to boldly state that the Lakers should deal Bryant to the New York Knicks, and ESPN’s Chad Ford has suggested that the Knicks (along with the Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks, and possibly the Charlotte Hornets) could be interested in the five-time NBA champion if Bryant were to be made available my General Manager Mitch Kupchak. A rival general manager told Ford, "I don't think they have the [expletive] to trade Kobe."
While no specific reports have surfaced of trade talks between the Lakers and Knicks, a possible deal could make a lot of sense for a number of reasons.
What trading Bryant would mean for the Lakers
Should the Lakers trade Bryant, they would almost certainly not receive adequate compensation, and therefore would be in position to give up on the season and attempt to build a contender in 2015-2016. A trade involving the Knicks would almost certainly mean the inclusion of Amar’e Stoudemire, due to salary cap reasons. Stoudemire is in the final year of his contract, and the Knicks could throw in draft picks, and perhaps shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. to give the Lakers an infusion of youth. Expiring contracts are necessary to free salary-cap space to sign free agents.
The Lakers may have reason to be optimistic about their long-term future if they deal Bryant. Entering 2015-2016, the Lakers would still have their own first-round pick, which would likely be a lottery selection, as well as a great deal of cap space to lure multiple free agents. In 2015, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Greg Monroe and others will test the free-agent market, while Kevin Durant can be a free agent at the end of the 2015-2016 season.
Losing Bryant would hurt in other areas, which would make the trade a gamble. The Lakers would have trouble selling out home games without a marquee player on the floor, and there would be a great deal of disappointed Lakers fans who appreciate what Bryant has done for the organization. Also, young players and star free-agent signings don’t necessarily guarantee success. The Chicago Bulls have yet to reach the NBA Finals since Michael Jordan retired in 1998, and it is very possible that L.A. may have similar struggles.
Should the Lakers trade Bryant and clear cap space, they wouldn't necessarily be better next year. This past offseason, the team failed to lure even one significant free agent to Los Angeles, and the same could happen in 2015.
However, dealing Bryant might be the best option of L.A.'s long-term success. Bryant and Laker fans won’t be content with an at-best eighth seed in the playoffs.
What Bryant gets out of playing with the Knicks
Entering the 2014 offseason, there had been speculation that Bryant wanted to team up with free agent Carmelo Anthony in Los Angeles. The high-scoring forward ultimately opted to re-sign with the Knicks, but a Bryant trade to the Big Apple would mean the Knicks would arguably have the highest scoring duo in the league. Bryant would also be reunited with his former backcourt mate Derek Fisher, who was named the Knicks head coach in June, as well as his former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, who is currently the team’s president.
Meanwhile, Bryant and Anthony could help propel the Knicks to go deep in the postseason. Bryant might no longer be a top player, but Anthony has never had a teammate of Bryant's caliber. Anthony and Bryant could form a very effective duo in the triangle offense. A drawback might be both players' often unwillingness to pass over shooting.
While the Eastern Conference has some top teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls, it also lacks depth. The Knicks could vault to the third best team with Bryant as a top scoring option.
Overall, Bryant would likely feel he has a better chance of winning a title in New York than in L.A.
What the Knicks get out of acquiring Bryant
The possible arrival of Bryant, despite his advanced age, would immediately prompt optimism in New York. The Knicks have not won a title since 1973, and have only two trips to the NBA Finals in 41 years. Even though he's no longer one of the three best players in the league, Bryant could still propel New York to one of the top seeds in the East, giving the Knicks one of their best teams in the last 15 years.
Bryant is a fierce competitor, and the Knicks would almost certainly benefit by him playing under Jackson and Fisher, and alongside Anthony. The Knicks would have a pair of eager-to-win veterans to potentially lead them deep into the postseason.
Other than Anthony, the Knicks don't have a reliable scoring option. J.R. Smith has been the team's No.2 scorer for the past two seasons, but he's extremely inconsistent, shooting no better than 40 percent from the field in 35 of 74 games last year. Stoudemire has been the second scoring option through two games, but he can't be relyed upon, missing 89 games since the 2011-2012 season.
Adding Bryant would limit the Knicks' spending next offseason, but they don't need another superstar in order to compete in the East. Two years ago, they won 54 games with Anthony as their best player, surrounded by complimentary roles players. A core of Anthony and Bryant could reach the same heights, especially if Jackson makes one or two savvy moves.
Ownership would also salivate at the idea of selling Bryant jerseys, and he would help make the Knicks the hottest ticket in town.
An IB Times staff reporter contributed to this report.