- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Kobe Bryant’s Christmas was a lot like the rest of his season: often brilliant, often dreadful and ultimately unsatisfying. Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers lost their much-anticipated battle with Shaquille O’Neal’s Miami Heat 104-102 in overtime.

Bryant also lost the never-ending battle with himself in an effort to be the consummate franchise player.

O’Neal, meanwhile, is enjoying his good fortune, finding a third All-NBA guard on his third NBA team. He let teammate Dwyane Wade do much of the heavy lifting.

Bryant made nearly every play for the Lakers — good and bad. He scored 42 points, including five 3-pointers, and committed nine turnovers in 50 minutes — all either matching or setting season highs.

Among the league leaders, Bryant is second in scoring (27.7 points), sixth in assists (7.2), first in free throws made (9.3) and attempted (11.6), second in field goals attempted (20.7), first in turnovers (4.5) and first in minutes played (43.6).

The new franchise player comes with a new pet move: He goes airborne and then decides to pass or shoot. This is the latest act of a desperate man and a poor decision-maker.

This is not a player who puts his teammates in a position to succeed. This is a player who asks his teammates to bail him out.

Bryant soon may suffer from air sickness. Equip him with a barf bag.

He is considerably easier to defend. Bryant rarely passes the ball flat-footed, so defenders know he will drive, take a jump shot or jump to pass the ball.

Of course he is second in the league in scoring. He takes more shots than anyone else. But he is not an efficient scorer, shooting just 39 percent from the field.

Of course his assists are up, as well as his turnovers. His hands are always on the ball. His fingerprints are on everything the Lakers do.

Move over, Allen Iverson. There is a new high-risk, high-reward player, and his ego is much bigger.

Bryant may have outplayed Shaquille O’Neal or Dwyane Wade, but he didn’t outplay them both.

O’Neal seems to revel in Bryant’s current plight. He just takes the high road and talks about playing “team ball.” The Lakers are Bryant’s franchise. Be careful what you wish for.

Bryant seems determined to prove a point that doesn’t need to be proved: He is a great player.

Much has been said about singular talent with poor locker room skills. But Bryant remains an incomplete player, too.

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