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Laker Doomsday?

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This offseason is looking even worse for the Lakers than LAist initially imagined. Now Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times writes that Kobe Bryant--after being handed the keys to the franchise--is "unimpressed by the new Laker program and hasn't committed himself to returning."

Exactly what is Kobe unimpressed with? The team that gambled by drafting him out of high school and subsequently made him a superstar and 3-time NBA champion is now catering to his every whim, even if it means ditching its 9-time NBA champion coach and arguably the most dominant player ever in Shaq, while potentially offering Kobe partial ownership down the road. This of course is happening while Lakers are again gambling with him on trial for rape.

The Lakers don't want to trade Shaq because they cannot get equal value for him, and could still be a title contender by keeping the Big 2. But keeping Shaq would make Bryant less likely to return. Bryant reportedly would like to stay in LA playing for either the Lakers or the Clippers, and is attracted to the idea of playing with Elton Brand and Corey Maggette.

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So let's recap here:

1.) Shaq and Kobe win three titles together, but can no longer coexist.

2.) Lakers express preference is to keep both together, but acknowledge if it's one or the other, they're picking the younger and cheaper Kobe.

3.) Lakers begin to accommodate Kobe by letting Phil Jackson go, and as a result of the team becoming Kobe's, Shaq demands a trade.

4.) No trade the Lakers make involving Shaq could possibly keep them a title favorite this season. This is in part because Shaq wants an extension continuing his unique status which allows only him and Kevin Garnett to make more than the maximum, but such an extension would slaughter any team's salary cap, thereby limiting the Lakers options. Additionally, Shaq has a new preference to only play in a warm weather city, further limiting the Lakers' options.

5.) Since a Shaq trade would make the Lakers no better than the Dallas Mavericks, and it would make the Mavericks the best team in the Western Conference, Kobe is unimpressed with his potential surroundings and might want to go to the Clippers. Which is better... Kobe, Dirk Nowitzki, and Antoine Walker or Kobe, Brand, and Maggette? Tough call.

6.) But let's remind our readers that the Lakers are only trading Shaq to make Kobe happy.

7.) As the Lakers are unimpressed with their limited trade options, they consider the possibility of having Shaq and Kobe stick it out together for one season, and then let Shaq opt out of his contract. The problem with that is Kobe is the free agent right now, and probably would not sign with the Lakers if Shaq remained.

8.) Additionally, if Shaq and his $27 million salary remains on the books, the Lakers would have less room under the salary cap to select from this year's paltry group of free agents, and might not get athletic enough to keep up with teams like say... Detroit.

9.) If Shaq did remain a Laker, he might even hold out until he is traded. His house is for sale, after all.

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10.) So herein lies the Laker paradox. Neither star wants to play with one another, but both realize the Lakers are not a championship team without the other so whichever player the team accommodates is going to want to leave anyway.

LAist is not going to take sides in the latest childish Shaq/Kobe feud. We recognize that Shaq is the most dominant inside presence in the game today, but we're also worried about his age, his weight gain, and his injury problems. We like Shaq, but we don't want to see him like Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon at the twilight of their careers, and we don't want the Lakers to be in salary cap hell so that acquiring young athletic stars becomes impossible.

We also believe that Kobe Bryant might the best all-around talent in the game today, who likely has the best 4-to-5 years of his career ahead of him. But we take issue with Kobe's ego that at times leads to poor shot selection. We also are miffed that while he wants to be better than Michael Jordan, he's one of the only players ever to be at odds with Jordan's coach, and has never really gotten along with most of his teammates. Oh, and that rape thing kind of concerns us too, where at the very least Kobe cheated on his wife with a 19-year old and at worst ends up as a convicted felon in jail.

We feel that both players have been inordinately selfish now that they are unable to put their petty differences behind them to win the championships that they are capable of winning. But we also want both players to remain Lakers because together they make Los Angeles the basketball capital of the world and the STAPLES Center the hippest place on earth.

Best-Case Scenario for the Lakers: Shaq and Kobe stick it out for one more season, Mitch Kupchak finds some decent athletes out of nowhere, and Head Coach Rudy Tomjanovich leads the Lakers to a championship.

Best-Case Scenario #2: The Lakers trade Shaq to Dallas, acquiring Dirk Nowitzki, Antoine Walker or Josh Howard, Pavel Podkolzine, and then steal Steve Nash in the process. The Lakers then roll past Sacramento for a Pacific Division title, get by Minnesota, San Antonio, Memphis, or Houston in the second round of the playoffs, and beat a Dallas team consisting of Shaq, Michael Finley, Jerry Stackhouse, Devin Harris, and Antoine Walker (and coached by Phil Jackson) to win the Western Conference. The Lakers get past Detroit or Indiana in the Finals.

Worst-case Scenario for the Lakers: Kobe becomes a Clipper, Shaq holds out, and the Lakers starting lineup of Gary Payton, Kareem Rush, Devean George, Luke Walton, and Brian Cook earns them a Clipperesque 17 wins. The Clippers win the West.

Worst-case Scenario #2: Kobe becomes a Clipper, Shaq goes to the Mavericks for only Nash, Walker, and Podkolzine, and the Clippers battle the Mavs for the Western Conference crown. The Lakers lineup of Nash, Rush, Walker, Medvedenko, and Podkolzine/Cook is just enough to make the playoffs (thereby missing the lottery) where they are swept by Tim Duncan's Spurs in the first round. The Clippers become LA's team.

Worst-case Scenario #3: The Lakers keep Kobe, give him everything he wants, and the jury rules him guilty.

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