- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Kobe Bryant has elected to be the next Tracy McGrady, while the latter has opted to be the No.2 option behind a dominant center.

That was the role of old Bryant, who was too self-absorbed to embrace the absolute logic of playing alongside Shaquille O’Neal.

Bryant is destined to receive his comeuppance this season. He will have a scoring title to diminish the egg on his face. His are hardly the Lakers in the traditional sense, if quality still counts with the front office there. It is a team that could secure one of the last playoffs spots in the Western Conference or miss the eight-team cut.

Either way, Bryant will get his 30 shots a game, which was the point of his blackmail exercise in the summer.

He still has not accepted his role in the departure of O’Neal and the Zen master, which is a quick rewriting of a history none too complex.

If Bryant wanted to remain in the company of O’Neal and the Zen master, he certainly could have made both a stipulation to his re-signing with the Lakers. Jerry Buss would have retained both in the amount of time it took him to reach for his wallet.

Bryant clings to his fantasy version because of what is ahead. His petulance-induced 41-41 record is going to be hard to digest next April.

Bryant was permitted to hijack one of the NBA’s leading franchises, as O’Neal and the Zen master have made all too clear. The hijacking will be part of Bryant’s basketball legacy, plus a precedent to be emulated by the spoiled and pampered of the future.

Bryant pointed a pen in the direction of Buss and the Lakers and threatened to spill his ink elsewhere. It is his act to bear now, in all its modesty, the severity of which is dependent on the mood of Karl Malone.

Malone’s equivocating is a form of taking the team’s temperature. He did not sign up for this. He could have stayed in Utah if a .500 record was the purpose.

In any case, the 41-year-old Malone has taken a wait-and-see approach, weighing his health and retirement plans in relation to the number of times Bryant hoists the ball to the basket, while a teammate in a better position stands open.

Malone is waffling between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring mark and the old school system of Jerry Sloan. He must ignore what he knows to be true to suit up again with Bryant.

It did not have to be this way.

That notion, incidentally, is bound to accompany Bryant after each loss.

If the old cast was still on board, the Lakers would have been the favorite going into the season, notwithstanding their improbable loss to the Pistons in the NBA Finals last June.

It has become almost convenient to minimize Malone’s knee injury and Gary Payton’s meltdown. If one or the other had not occurred, the Lakers would have defeated the Pistons in the predicted fashion.

So let the perverse fun begin, assuming you enjoy watching the payback of the smug.

Bryant has donned the cloak of conceit like no athlete before him.

His trip down the catwalk will be a national chorus of, “We told you so.”

Working from this scenario, Ray Allen has suggested Bryant will be imploring Buss to upgrade the team’s talent in a year or two.

The outcome is certain to be sweet, especially for O’Neal and the Zen master, reduced to being castoffs because of an overbearing ego.

Take note of Dec. 25, when O’Neal meets Bryant in Los Angeles, thanking you very much, David Stern.

That is the one game on the NBA’s interminable schedule that transcends the game’s customary marketplace.

The second meeting between O’Neal and Bryant is March17, when Bryant is expected to have some powerful explaining to do regarding the limited relevance of the Lakers.

Bryant wanted the 1-on-3 burden, and now he has it. All 82 games of it.

Let’s see how long before his high-wattage smile turns to a frown.

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