Lakers' decision on Bryant far from being a slam-dunk

The Baltimore Sun

Miami -- You are running a successful company.

But your most valuable employee is a swirling tempest. He doesn't get along with the co-workers he trashes. He calls you a liar in public. He shames the company name again and again. He gets in trouble with the law in a big scandal and rewards your support during that ordeal by promptly forgetting about all that support and demanding to work elsewhere even though he is under contract for the maximum amount anyone in the world can pay him.

What do you do, boss?

Before you say "Fire him!" consider this: He is better at what he does than just about anyone else. The other employees don't much like him but know they can't be as successful without him. Neither can you, for that matter.

Headaches or not, your company is more popular and more profitable with him than without him. Jettisoning him to prove a point about company morale and promoting a no-one-is-bigger-than-the-team ideal will hurt you more than him. And, in business, the most important statements you make are bank statements.

This is the checkmate position in which Kobe Bryant has put his Los Angeles Lakers. Can't win with him; can't win without him. Last time the Lakers were in a similar position, they traded Shaquille O'Neal. Then they watched him hold up the championship trophy while failing to get out of the first round of the playoffs in the three years since.

"You move him," Florida Marlins team president Dave Samson says when asked what he would do if third baseman Miguel Cabrera were making a Kobe-like stink. "No player is above the team."

Sounds nice. But it is wrong in basketball. A Most Valuable Player can still leave you in last place in baseball. Not in basketball, where the superstar can be and often is bigger than the team and the franchise. You can't reward Bryant's petulance if it means your team getting appreciably worse because you can't get equal value for him.

You try to get him Kevin Garnett, a 7-1 pacifier, making everyone better. But, if you fail, you don't bow to his public relations noise.

Bryant overvalued his worth three years ago, when he thought he could win without O'Neal, and we saw how that worked out. The greatness of Michael Jordan wasn't that he won six titles; it is that he won six titles with Bill Wennington, Bill Cartwright and Luc Longley in the middle. Bryant now knows how hard it is to win without O'Neal, and his reaction to that realization is to whimper and quit and blame everyone but the person in the mirror.

Bad supporting cast? It isn't as bad as that of LeBron James, who went to the NBA Finals. Granted, the Eastern Conference is an easier path, but Bryant has a much better sidekick than James. Lamar Odom, statistically, is Scottie Pippen. And that's example 496 of why Bryant isn't Jordan, even though he seems to think he is.

His behavior isn't uncommon in sports because everyone tends to be selfish no matter how much they pay lip service to the importance of the team.

It isn't just the players, either. Seattle Mariners manager Mike Hargrove, on the cusp of first place, just quit on his team in the middle of a winning streak. He simply didn't feel like managing anymore. But we give the authority figures more wiggle room on this stuff for some reason.

We, as fans, get mad at the Tank Johnsons and Adam "Pacman" Joneses of the world for their spoiled and reckless behavior because we are jealous of their jobs, their money, their glory - and how flippant they are with throwing away what we would value.

But there's a reason they can behave that way: They are better at what they do than we are. There are fewer people in the world who can do what Johnson and Jones can do than there are people who can do what we do.

But it is so difficult to measure worth in basketball. Mike James averaged 20.3 points a game for the Toronto Raptors in the 2005-06 season. His team went 33-49. In basketball, you aren't that good if your team isn't.

Bryant is great, just not nearly as great as he thinks he is.

And now he's stuck in an unhappy place, making everyone around him miserable.

Because the Lakers have a business to run and trading the headache is bad for business.

Dan Le Batard writes for The Miami Herald.

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