Is it time for Lakers to trade Kobe? - NBC Sports

Is it time for Lakers to trade Kobe?
Amid talk of Howard trade, Lakers may be better served moving their other star
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After 17 seasons, it may be time for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to part ways.
January 15, 2013, 7:01 pm

During the ESPN broadcast, Jeff Van Gundy actually said the Lakers might have been better off playing that night, as they did, with a hustling Robert Sacre rather than with a Dwight Howard who seemingly has lost his passion.

A week earlier, Sacre was in the D-League.

For now, that's where the focus is with the Lakers, as the Feb. 21 trading deadline approaches, following by Howard's impending free agency.

Even as Jim Buss says he is 95 percent sure Howard will be back, many already are working the cap permutations on preemptive possibilities for the Lakers, as it spins out of control.

Lose Howard for nothing and, well, Kobe would be left with nothing, longing for the glory that was the Andrew Bynum era.

But might it instead be time to consider the alternative, the one that many had spoken about before Howard was acquired last summer, but one that barely has been mentioned since:

Trading Kobe?

"Literally, in between 'Dancing with the Stars' practices, I thought we had traded at one time for Kobe Bryant," Cuban said during a Dallas ESPN Radio appearance. "I even talked to their owner. I thought we were going to have a done deal and then Mitch Kupchak changed his mind and brought him back."

To the purists, Bryant represents one of the last stay-at-home stars, about to complete an entire career with the same franchise.

But with LeBron winning in Miami, and even with Shaq finding post-Lakers championship success with the Heat, the stigma of chasing a championship has been muted. It no longer is viewed as taking the easy way out. To a degree, it's why Steve Nash arrived in Los Angeles, and Ray Allen in Miami this past summer.

For a moment, getting past Kobe and what he might or might not want, the change with the Lakers, from Jerry Buss to Jim Buss, and from Phil Jackson to a revolving door, has been so severe that tradition has become somewhat of an abstract for the purple and gold. This simply is not a very Laker-like operation at the moment.

What a trade of Bryant would do is give up on the season, but so would a trade of Howard. For that matter, is there a season left to salvage?

Beyond that, we saw how debilitating, and ultimately crippling, dealing with Dwight rumors was last season for the Magic.

Just as teams rarely trade big for small, so must the deliberations weigh in favor of youth vs. near retirement.

Understand, Bryant is one of four players in the league with iron-clad no-trade clauses. So he only goes where he wants to go. And that means only to a contender, which would remove some of the ire toward the franchise.

But what the Lakers need to do is show Howard that even beyond the extra $30 million he would pocket from the Lakers versus an outside team in free agency, that there is a support system in place beyond the current floundering mix.

The most sense? That would be getting Howard what he wants, if not where he wanted: a trade with Brooklyn involving Deron Williams. For Bryant, it would be the opportunity to play for the Russian oligarch, on the ultimate emerging stage, with enough in support, in a conference with a far easier path to the Finals.

With Williams holding a 15-percent trade kicker in his deal and the Nets having Kris Humphries' contract to throw into the mix, the money can work without overly otherwise disrupting either team.

Then there is the chance of reuniting Howard with longtime friend Josh Smith, another impending free agent, with Atlanta the type of market that Bryant might embrace, especially when cast alongside Al Horford, again in the lesser of the NBA's conferences.

While there certainly would be a romantic angle to ending it Philadelphia, not far from where his prep-to-pros odyssey began, it's not as if the Lakers are taking back Bynum, with the 76ers otherwise having little in the way of matching salaries.

As with many of these permutations, that's where multi-team deals enter the equation.

The possibilities are there: Wizards, John Wall and Nene; Bucks, Monta Ellis and Ersan Ilyasova; Grizzlies, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley; Hornets, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.

Some might seem far-fetched considering Bryant's age. Others would need cap tinkering. All would require Bryant's approval.

But all would at least afford Howard the opportunity to see what the next chapter of the Lakers would look like, one that is coming, whether Kobe plays out his few remaining years at Staples or elsewhere.

First, of course, the Lakers have to decide what they are, where this all is headed, and what ultimately might happen with Howard, who hardly is known for his concrete answers.

But as the losses accumulate, as Howard sees the Lakers as less of a dynasty than he might have envisioned, it might behoove the Lakers to convince Bryant to go out in a blaze of potential championship glory elsewhere, so the only NBA franchise he has known can get off to the next phase that never arrived this season.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

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