By Eric Neel
Page 2

Basketball Jones and Kobe Bryant: An imaginary dialogue ...

Basketball Jones: Nice start, K.

Kobe Bryant: Shut up. So we're 4-4. So what? It's early. You ought to just cool out.

Basketball Jones: Four wins, four losses. With wins against New Orleans, Atlanta and Houston-without-Tracy. Feeling good about that? The league ought to slap an asterisk on you. You don't scare anybody.

Kobe Bryant: We just need some time to figure each other out a bit. A lot of turnover in the lineup. A lot of guys still getting to know each other. We'll get it.

Basketball Jones: I'm gonna take the high road on this. I'm not even gonna mention the How and the Why of that "turnover," all right? I'm just gonna say this: You all aren't getting to know each other; you're standing and watching each other. You're running high pick-rolls and isos and everybody knows it. Your teammates are gawking while you dribble, jab-step, and fade-away all night; and when you decide to dish it, they're too cold, stiff, and out of position to make a play. You've got troubles, friend.

Kobe Bryant: Who you calling friend? And what, I'm not supposed to shoot? I'm not the primary scoring option? I'm not our best chance to win games?

Jones: You are, but you aren't.

Kobe: I hate when you talk like that. You sound like Phil.

Kobe Bryant
Basketball Jones isn't impressed with Kobe's 39 percent FG shooting.

Jones: My bad.

Kobe: I know what you're saying. I'm trying to let it go to get it back. I swear I am. I'm trying to get people involved. It's tough. I see games slipping away and I can't stand it. I have to do something.

Jones: Understood. But what you have to do is get Lamar in the flow a little more. His point and rebound totals can't go down from last year; they have to go UP. Be willing to move without the ball a little more, push the transition game a little more, and tell Rudy to get Young Luke on the floor a little more, too.

Kobe: Let's say I give it up, take fewer shots, whatever. It could get ugly ...

Jones: You're shooting 39 percent from the floor, K. Nobody on the squad averages more than four-and-a-half assists a night. The team is 23rd in the league from beyond the arc. It already is ugly.

Kobe: You guys are loving this, right? You love seeing me struggle.

Jones: It's reason to get up in the morning. No, seriously? Sure, there are some haters, but I think most of us just find this interesting. We want to know what happens next. We want to see you work the problem. More than anything, and I'm serious about this, we want to see something new from you.

We know you're fierce. We know you're supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. We know you can get a shot and take a shot and that your desire to win would put Patton to shame. Now we want to see what else you got. I mean, this is it. This is the defining moment, right? It's not the rings that have come before. It's this, right here, right now.

Do you do what Jordan did? Do you transmogrify yourself, go against your lone-gunman impulses, even when they've served you so well in the past, and become some new great thing? We're riding you now, no doubt. But all that could change if you'd open up a bit, loosen your grip, re-invent, become that mythical "player who makes the players around him better." We want to see that more than anything.

Kobe Bryant
Kobe's averaging 4.6 assists per game, his lowest average since 1999.

Kobe: Jordan had Pippen.

Jones: Um, you had a co-star, baby, so don't go playing that card ... and besides, Jordan had Steve Kerr and Bill Wennington, and B.J. Armstrong and Luc Longley, too, and they all hit big shots for him. Think about the moment when he dishes to Kerr for the series-winning shot in Game 6 in '97. I know a lot of people say his clincher over Bryon Russell in '98 is his legacy shot; but to me, it's the Kerr shot, the pass, the shot MJ doesn't take, that defines what he learned, what he became as a player.

Kobe: My thing is, I'm not Michael. I'm me. And you all know what I can do, right, but you don't really know. You're just going to have to wait to see what I'm going to do next. I hope you doubt me. I really do. I hope you think I'm done.

Jones: All right, then. And understand, it's not about the points. It's not even about the playoffs or the title right now. Show us an approach to the game. Show us a style. We'll eat that up, even if you and your boys come in at .500 at season's end.

Kobe: My boys gotta get healthy. I need Vlade and B. Grant back.

Jones: You've got the Clips tonight. Tell the truth. Looking around, do you sometimes wish you'd signed with them instead of re-upping with the Lakers?

Kobe: You're the guy who wrote like 40,000 words on the Clippers curse, right?

Jones: Yeah, I'm just saying ...

Kobe: No way. I'm right where I want to be.

Jones: I'm just saying, the Pacific is a winnable division. The Kings are aging, you guys are struggling, Golden State is busy being Golden State. Phoenix looks strong, but the Clips could be right in this thing. They crush Seattle, they take the defending champs to OT, they slam the Pacers, and then they come back big against the Bulls the other night ... they're looking interesting right now. Could you win the West if you were with this team?

Kobe: I'm not thinking about it.

Lamar Odom
Kobe, see what happens when you don't pass the ball?

Jones: Maybe you should. They've got some players. Brand is a horse. Kind of a younger, healthier, more agile and effective Brian Grant.

Kobe: You're funny.

Jones: Of course, his hair is nowhere near as cool, so you got that working for you.

Kobe: Speaking of hair, what's yours doing in that headband up above? You going for a Jason Kapono thing?

Jones: It's a Slick Watts tribute. Don't mess. And don't change the subject. The subject is the team you wish you were playing for, the Los Angeles Clippers. Not your daddy's Clippers (yeah, you thought I forgot about that, didn't you?), the Clippers of '04, featuring Corey "Coming of Age" Maggette, Chris "How Ya' Like Me Now" Wilcox, a 6-7 point named Marco who's maybe figuring some things out, a 6-7 rook behind him named Livingston who could be the most talented player on the squad at only 19 (remember those days?), and a coach who's pretty good when he isn't coaching in Milwaukee (aren't we all), and who would love to stick it to your team, his former employers.

Kobe: First of all, let me just say, if you want to do the Slick Watts thing, you're going to have to shave that head, not just wrap it in a headband. Second of all, let me just say ... they're the Clippers, man.

Jones: True. And they're still owned by Donald Sterling. And Elgin Baylor is still their GM. And these are facts not to be trifled with. But they do, um, score more points than they give up right now, which isn't something that can be said about your squad. And I'm just wondering, if you're sitting where you're sitting, getting ready to lace up tonight for a showdown in the Staples Center, don't you have to ask yourself: Which L.A. team is on the way up and which L.A. team is on the way down? Where is the buzz? Who's got the vibe? Maybe more to the point, don't you have to ask yourself: Which team gives you the best chance to win, K? And which team, because they've been down so long, gives you the best chance putting your stamp on something, the way Schilling did in Boston, the way Reggie White did in Green Bay a few years back?

Kobe: They've got a nice young team. I like 'em. But I made my choice and I feel good about it. I don't give it a second thought.

Jones: Too painful, eh? I understand.

Kobe Bryant
Maggette is leading the Clips at 21 points per game.

Kobe: Watch yourself.

Jones: Here's the really painful possibility: Maybe they're better off without you.

Kobe: We're done here.

Jones: I'm not slamming -- not too hard, anyway. I'm just saying, they've got a nice young two-guard named Bobby Simmons who's playing free and hungry, with the desire of a man looking to make a name for himself. He's a contributor without being the focus. He's shooting at a high percentage; and maybe most importantly, he's on the same level and the same page as everyone else on the team. He's no superstar; he's a Clipper looking to get over. Just like everyone else on the roster.

Odom said in SI the other day that he finds himself watching you when he's on the floor. And it'd be the same way if you were a Clipper. Wilcox would be standing there all slack-jawed. Livingston would probably ask for your autograph during timeouts. Can't have that. And from the organization's standpoint, a whole lot of green was saved when you turned them down. Now I know it's a long shot to figure the Clippers, who send their players out in the stands during games to collect coins, will spend that money on three or four pieces to a playoff or championship puzzle in the years to come. I know that. But at least now that's an option.

Kobe: What do you want me to say? I can't control any of that. I can only play my game. Do my best to make my team win. Play hard every night.

Jones: I hear you. I'm just asking you to imagine ...

Kobe: This whole thing isn't about imagination ...

Jones: But it is. That's exactly what it is.

Kobe: You're sounding like Phil again. You got some Kahlil Gibran you want me to read? You got some fortune cookie koan you want me to ponder? Maybe we could sit in the sacred circle a while, would you like that?

Jones: No. But you could ponder this: The Clips are gonna push you a bit. They're coming for you. People feel it.

Kobe: I feel it, too. Them and everybody else. Same old, same old, really. Bring it on.

Jones: You know that bit at the beginning of Macbeth? ... "It will be rain tonight," says Banquo.

Kobe: Yeah, and the first murderer says, "Let it come down." That's me. Let's get it started. I'm ready.

Jones: I've always liked that about you. Good luck. Talk to you soon.

Kobe: See ya.

Eric Neel is a columnist for Page 2. His Basketball Jones column will appear each Wednesday's during the NBA season.