Ball is in Lakers' court with Kobe

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With that little matter of the NBA draft finally out of the way, the Lakers can get back to what's really important: Finding a way to keep Kobe Bryant happy.

Good luck.

Nothing the Lakers have done so far has worked. Bryant pouted and popped off when he had to share top billing - and the ball - with Shaq. Being "The Man" apparently wasn't as much fun as he thought it was going to be, either, as evidenced by his trade demands this summer.

What, then, makes the Lakers think anything they do will make him happy?

No matter what move the team makes, it's only a matter of time until Bryant throws his next tantrum, says he wants to be traded, takes it back and on and on. Unless they enjoy this dysfunction, it's time for the Lakers to remind their superstar who runs the team.

And it's not Kobe.

Unhappy as he is now, this is exactly what Bryant signed on for when he decided to stay with the Lakers three years ago.

Bryant gets blamed - unfairly - for driving Shaquille O'Neal out of Los Angeles. But their relationship had disintegrated to the point that team owner Jerry Buss could keep one or the other, not both.

It wasn't much of a choice. Bryant has the most talent of anyone in the game today, was not quite 26 then and was about to become a free agent. O'Neal was 32, his body already beginning to break down.

But, really, where's Bryant going to go?

Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak aren't stupid, for one thing. Not only is Bryant a rare talent, he's one of the NBA's most popular players. No way Buss and Kupchak are going to trade him.

And since he's due $88.6 million over the next four years, with the option to opt out in two years, no team has the capital to swing a deal, either. Not without gutting itself and its future, at least.

"There seems to be no quality, no value at all, for what we expect for Kobe Bryant, and that's understandable," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Kobe's got to respect what this team has to do, and we're trying to work our way through this."

The Lakers tried mightily to acquire Kevin Garnett - ironic, considering he's the poster boy for suffering gracefully with a struggling team - but they didn't have the players or the high draft picks to get it done. There's also talk of a deal for Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal.

The problem is, the Lakers aren't looking for bit players. They need a big talent to placate Bryant, and that doesn't come cheap or easy. After Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, they don't have much to offer.

What's right for the Lakers won't necessarily be right for Bryant, though.

That's the risk he took, however, and there's only one person to blame.


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