Seven trade possibilities for Kobe

Well, it finally happened -- Black Mamba came out and demanded a trade from the Lakers. The proclamation happened during an interview on Stephen A. Smith's radio show in New York City on Wednesday. Here were my first three reactions:

1. Cool, I actually have something to write about today!

2. Stephen A. Smith still has a radio show?

3. Time to hit ESPN's Trade Machine!

Sure, Kobe recanted the trade demands three hours later -- almost like someone backing out of an eBay bid or something -- but that didn't stop me from hammering the ESPN Trade Machine like Joe Cazalghe pummeled Peter Manfredo. After all, it's not often when an NBA team is forced to trade a marquee superduperstar in his prime. We might as well enjoy the moment while it lasts, right? In the past 35 years, only nine players were traded after a season in which they made a first or second All-NBA team. One of those players was past his prime (Gary Payton), and three were great players but not "superduperstars" at the time they were traded (Paul Westphal, Dennis Johnson, Jason Kidd). Here were the five superduperstar deals.

1975: Milwaukee trades Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers for Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Junior Bridgeman and Dave Meyers … or as some would later call it, the "pu pu platter." Kareem ended up winning five more rings, three MVP awards (it would have been four if Bill Walton didn't win in '78 for a 55-game season) and even starring as Roger Murdock in "Airplane!"

1982: Houston trades Moses Malone to Philadelphia for Caldwell Jones and a No. 1 pick that turned out to be the third pick in the 1983 draft (Rodney McCray). It's worth mentioning that the '82-'83 Rockets bottomed out and ended up with the No. 1 pick (Ralph Sampson) as well. It's also worth mentioning that Malone won the MVP and led the '83 Sixers to a title.

1992: Philadelphia trades Charles Barkley to Phoenix for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry … or as some would later call it, "the pu pu platter deluxe." Barkley lost 20 pounds, won the '93 MVP in Phoenix, and would have won a title if Kevin Johnson didn't completely melt down in the Finals against Chicago (everyone forgets this).

2004: Orlando trades Tracy McGrady (with Juwan Howard) to Houston for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato … a trade that worked out so poorly, it led to the one and only time in NBA history that a GM (Orlando GM John Weisbrod) received death threats from his own fans.

2004: The Lakers trade Shaq to Miami for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, a future first-rounder and Brian Grant's gigantic contract (that was eventually used for an Allan Houston Exemption). The Lakers won four playoff games total in the next three seasons; Miami won the 2006 title and would have won in 2005 if Dwyane Wade didn't get hurt.

(Hold on, we have to give Lakers fans a few seconds to clear the vomit out of their mouths.)

(OK, we're good.)

With Kobe finally demanding out, two questions remain:

1. For the love of God, what took him so long? L.A.'s game plan for the post-Shaq era was so illogical, it earned Mitch Kupchak a seat at the First-Annual Atrocious GM Summit last year. Why would you build a young team around a franchise scorer in his prime? Why give him a degree of difficulty? What's the point of rolling the dice with projects like Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown, or wasting a lottery pick on a high school center (Andrew Bynum) and passing on players who could have helped the team right away (like Danny Granger)? How could they pass up a chance to acquire an impact player last February (like Jason Kidd or Jermaine O'Neal) when they had expiring contracts, draft picks and Bynum as potential bait?

2. What can the Lakers get for him?

To properly figure this out, you need to include a couple of variables. First, Kobe has a complete no-trade clause and is too image-conscious to play in a small market. He's not going to Memphis. He's not going to Milwaukee. He's not going to Sacramento. Kobe will want a big market that keeps him in the national limelight. Second, he'd want to play for a team that could contend right away; there's no way he'd agree to shepherd another rebuilding project or youth movement. And third, as much as a mega-deal makes sense with Kobe and Carmelo as the principals, you'd see O.J. move back to Brentwood before you'd see Kobe accept a trade that puts him in Colorado.

One more thing to remember: Right now, the Lakers are sitting at $57.66 million in salaries for the 2007-08 season. Conceivably, they could use a Kobe trade to clear enough cap space to sign a marquee free agent in 2007 or 2008. As Shaq and Kareem proved, NBA stars will always want to play in Los Angeles if they can pull it off. Between the weather, the women, the wealth and the Hollywood scene, the Lakers have an enormous free agency advantage over every NBA team but New York, Phoenix, Orlando, Miami and maybe Dallas. Keep that in mind.

Three other mitigating factors:

(A) A year ago, the Clippers had the assets (specifically, Shaun Livingston) and cap space to pull off a mega-Kobe deal. Not anymore.

(B) I liked Golden State as a prospective home for Kobe -- but Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis and the No. 17 pick isn't getting it done, and the Warriors don't have enough friendly cap contracts to pull off anything bigger.

(C) Sadly, tragically, there's no conceivable scenario in which the Knicks can offer a decent enough package for Kobe. They're not getting him for a Jamal Crawford-David Lee-Nate Robinson-Quentin Richardson package, and they're not getting the Lakers to bite on Stephon Marbury unless they can frame Kupchak for murder and blackmail him with the photos between now and June 30. It's not happening. Sorry, Knicks fans.

Anyway, with help from the Trade Machine, here were the seven most logical deals in descending order from "least likely" to "most likely."

Deal No. 7: Houston trades Tracy McGrady, Bobby Sura (expiring contract in 2008) and the No. 26 pick for Kobe and Vladimir Radmanovic.

Comments: The Lakers aren't getting LeBron or Gilbert Arenas, and 'Melo isn't happening (see above). So that makes T-Mac the best under-30 scorer available. Where would he take the Lakers though? They were already a .500 team with Kobe, right? And wouldn't T-Mac inevitably be unhappy going to another rebuilding team? Too big a risk for the Lakers -- the last thing they need is another unhappy superstar. They're already going to have 15,000 unhappy season-ticket holders as it is.

Deal No. 6: Philadelphia trades Andre Igoudala, Sam Dalembert, Kevin Ollie (expiring contract in 2008), the No. 12 pick and the No. 21 pick for Kobe.

Comments: Mildly intriguing. The Lakers get a potential All-Star (Igoudala) and a shotblocker (Dalembert), and also end up with the Nos. 12, 19 and 21 picks in a loaded draft. Kobe gets to come home to Philly and play with Andre Miller, Kyle Korver, and … oh, wait, there wouldn't be any other good players on the team. And not just that, but everyone in Philly hates Kobe. Forget it.

Deal No. 5: Boston trades Theo Ratliff (expires in 2008), Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, the No. 5 pick and its rights to Minny's future No. 1 for Kobe.

Comments: A more logical trade (Kobe for Paul Pierce and the No. 5 pick) doesn't work because Kobe would never agree to lead another youth movement. So could a Jefferson-Green-picks package work? I like the thought of Kobe and Pierce joining forces in a crummy conference, and it's hard to imagine the Lakers doing better in terms of potential cap space, premium picks and players with UPPPPPPPPPPPPPside (in my opinion, Jefferson is the best low-post scorer in the league under 24). Still, it's hard to imagine the Los Angeles Lakers trading their franchise player to the Boston Celtics. I just can't see it. It's too weird. Also, I think my dad's head would explode.

Deal No. 4: Dallas trades Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse (sign-and-trade starting at $7.3 million per) for Kobe.

Comments: I'm intrigued by this one because (A) the Lakers would be competitive with a Howard-Terry-Odom-Bynum nucleus; (B) Kobe would solve all of Nowitzki's toughness/crunch-time problems; and (C) Dallas could probably win a title with Kobe, Nowitzki, the Diop/Dampier combo, Devin Harris and seven guys they found on the street. But would the Lakers ever trade Kobe to a Western contender? And would Cuban ever admit that Dirk was irrevocably damaged by the 2006 Finals and the Warriors-Mavs series, to the degree that he needed to acquire another crunch-time guy? If the Mavs didn't have the testicular fortitude to pull off a Shaq trade three years ago, they won't have the gulliones to go after Kobe.

Deal No. 3: Atlanta trades Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Ty Lue and the No. 11 pick for Kobe and Radmanovic.

Comments: Love this trade for the Lakers because Johnson replaces 75 percent of Kobe's scoring; Williams and Johnson give them two perfect triangle guys; they'd get a quality rookie like Joakim Noah or Al Thornton at No. 11; and they'd even get to dump their one shaky salary in the deal (four more years of Radmanovic at $25 million) for Lue's expiring deal. That's a pretty good haul. Also, the Hawks haven't had someone who could sell tickets since 'Nique; they could build around Kobe, Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia, Shelden Williams, Free Agent Signing X and the No. 3 pick. They could tinker with this deal and substitute the No. 3 and Childress for the No. 11 and Williams and see if L.A. bites on that.

Here's the problem: I can't see Kobe accepting a trade to (A) a young team (even a young team with as much potential as the Hawks), and (B) a moribund NBA city like Atlanta. Seems too far-fetched. But this would be the best-case scenario for the league itself -- sticking Kobe in a big Eastern city, instantly getting another marquee franchise and ending up with a third superstar in a depleted conference. If David Stern has any juice left -- and it's unclear after the tragic events of May 22 -- he'll make this deal happen.

Deal No. 2: Chicago trades Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Victor Khryapa and the No. 9 pick for Kobe.

Additional notes: This deal works as long as the Bulls renounce P.J. Brown's rights; also, it means the Lakers would receive a mammoth (and appealing) trade exception in the deal.

Comments: This seems like the most natural home for Kobe -- it's a big city; they're a contender in the East; there's enough talent left after the deal to make a run, and even the MJ-Kobe symmetry works nicely -- as well as the best possible haul for the Lakers. The deal could work in a variety of ways: Instead of renouncing Brown's rights, the Bulls could include Andres Nocioni as a sign-and-trade (starting at around $5 million per) and renounce Mike Sweetney's rights instead of Brown's. If they wanted to get even more creative, they could make it Deng, Gordon, P.J. Brown (sign and trade -- one year, $10 million) and the No. 9 for Kobe. They could try to substitute Ty Thomas and a future No. 1 for Deng. Etc., etc., etc.

Two big obstacles here:

(A) Would the Bulls ever give up Deng? The Lakers would have to get him back in a Kobe deal, right? I feel like he's become slightly overrated over the past season -- he's definitely a potential All-Star; he definitely could become the second-best player on a championship-caliber team, but I don't see him getting much better than he is right now. Do you ever see him scoring 27-28 a game? Do you ever see him being the crunch-time scorer on a great team? If you could land Kobe and keep Kirk Hinrich, Ben Wallace, Ty Thomas, Chris Duhon and Thabo Sefolosha, then sign one more veteran to help them out, that's a potential 2008 title team. Isn't the whole point to win a title?

(B) Would John Paxson ever roll the dice with a mega-deal for someone like Kobe? He seems to be happier stockpiling young assets and waiting for one of these other teams to offer him the likes of KG or Jermaine O'Neal for 30 cents on the dollar. By making a Kobe deal, Paxson would be shoving his chips to the middle of the table ... something he's been completely unwilling to do. We will see.

Deal No. 1: Phoenix trades Shawn Marion, Leandro Barbosa, Marcus Banks and the rights to Atlanta's 2008 first-rounder to the Lakers for Kobe and Radmanovic.

Now we're talking! Some of my favorite things about this trade include …

(A) The Lakers ending up with a nucleus of Marion, Odom, Barbosa and Bynum, along with Farmar, Walton, Turiaf and the No. 19 pick, as well as the inevitable Kwame Brown trade to a moronic team that convinces itself that Kwame's career could be salvaged. That's a pretty good foundation.

(B) Phoenix trotting out a starting lineup of Nash, Kobe, Raja Bell, Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw. Good golly. Sweet Jesus.

(C) Radmanovic realizing his manifest destiny of playing in Phoenix. It was meant to be from the moment Mike D'Antoni and Nash teamed up three years ago.

(D) Kobe and Raja as teammates. High comedy. The most improbable pairing since Rodman and Pippen 12 years ago.

(E) The most selfish player in the league (Kobe) playing with the most unselfish player in the league (Nash). What a fascinating sociological experiment. If Nash can turn Kobe into a team player, I'm voting him for our 2008 president even though he's Canadian.

Two potential problems: First, it's unlikely that the Lakers would be dumb enough to trade Kobe within their own division, although with Kupchak involved, anything's possible. And second, assuming that Nash has a say in front-office decisions at this point, would he really want to green-light a scenario that has him managing two enormous egos in Stoudemire and Kobe?

Well, lemme throw this at you: What if the Suns then swapped Stoudemire to Minnesota for KG, as I proposed in a May 14 column? That would give them the following crunch-time lineup: Nash, Kobe, Bell, Diaw and KG. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2008 World Champions! Just send them the trophy right now.

So that's my vote: Black Mamba, you're going to Phoenix to play with KG and Nash. And if it happens, I can guarantee that the 2008 playoffs will be more entertaining than the 2007 playoffs.

(Which isn't saying much, but still.)

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