- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

Kobe Bryant insists he never chased Shaquille O’Neal out of Los Angeles, just to set the tired record straight, and that it was all the work of team owner Jerry Buss.

Bryant, as usual, is being duplicitous.

And this is not to suggest that Buss was eager to lavish millions of dollars on an aging O’Neal. This is to suggest that if Bryant truly wanted O’Neal to remain with the Lakers — and had shouted that want to everyone with a microphone or notepad — Buss would have had no choice but to deal with the prospect of paying O’Neal his millions.

What Bryant wants he usually gets, whether it is the unyielding support of the organization during his legal problems with a woman from Colorado or his insistence that the Zen Master be rehired.

Bryant has found that it is tough being Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett or Tracy McGrady in his Magic seasons. Being a one-man team is thankless work, although Bryant was both confident and egotistical enough to think he could be the exception.

Three seasons later and not one playoff series triumph in that span, Bryant has unleashed his inner diva on the Lakers.

He has asked to be traded from the organization that has limited maneuvering room in free agency because of the contract it awarded him three summers ago.

Or maybe he is merely frustrated by the double-team work of Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, the owner’s son whose basketball expertise is said to be limited.

Or maybe Bryant is trying to orchestrate Jerry West’s return in a highly risky, potentially counterproductive manner.

West was Kupchak’s mentor and can’t be happy that his protege has become the fall guy for all that ails the Lakers.

It is true that Kupchak traded away a future All-Star in Caron Butler to land the dubious Kwame Brown. It also is true the Lakers owe Bryant $88 million over the next four seasons.

The securing of top-level personnel becomes ever more problematic if a team becomes overly invested in one player, as Kevin McHale and the Timberwolves have found in Minneapolis.

The Lakers owe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Brown $42 million in salaries next season. That is their Big Three salary-wise, which tells you all you need to know about the state of the Lakers.

They are stuck in part unless there is a sucker intrigued by the value of Odom at $13.5 million or Brown at $9.1 million.

The mess that is the Lakers is in large measure the fault of Bryant.

He is a spoiled, pampered jerk who does not interact well with others.

If he could not get along with the lovable O’Neal — all because of the question of whose team it was — what All-Star-caliber would mesh easily with Bryant?

Of course, Bryant is older now, perhaps even wiser, although his latest public tantrum tends to refute the latter.

He owes the Lakers big-time. Even if he is unhappy with the course of the team, he knows there are far better ways of going about expressing that than in a public forum.

He has called out nearly anyone who matters in the organization with the exception of the Zen Master.

That is Bryant for you.

If he is not pimp-slapping a defender who has the temerity to challenge his shot, he is going all smug on Raja Bell.

“Do I know this guy?” Bryant said in the playoffs last year. “I don’t know this guy.”

Bryant may be the NBA’s leading talent, but he is something far less as a teammate.

He is an aloof and prickly sort whose individualism would have been far better served in tennis or golf.

He wants to shoot a zillion shots. He doesn’t want to shoot a zillion shots. He wants lackeys on the floor around him. He doesn’t want that. He wants to be traded. He doesn’t want to be traded.

He is insufferable.

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