- Johnette Howard, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- Kobe Bryant probably didn't intend to give his Olympics teammate, friend and presumed recruiting target Carmelo Anthony a blueprint, detailing perhaps the only way Anthony can rationalize staying in New York rather than opt for free agency this offseason -- because of the perennial reminders that Knicks management has no idea how to build a championship team.
But that's what Bryant sort of inadvertently did Sunday during a lengthy pregame interview, before the swooning Lakers lost 110-103 to the Knicks in their one regular-season visit to Madison Square Garden.
Bryant said that sometimes a franchise player like him -- and like Anthony -- needs to bite back at his own club if he doesn't like how things are going. Speak up. Publicly flex some power. Forget about being the Nice Guy.
Demand a culture change rather than risk going down in NBA history as, say, one of the greatest scorers who never won a title -- a label Bryant will avoid but Anthony has yet to shed.
"It is important for the organization to understand the level of competitiveness that you have, that you won't tolerate having a team that is not in contention for an NBA championship -- which is what I did [in 2006 and 2007]," Bryant said. "It rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But sometimes you got to kick down a few doors and piss some people off and trust that it will pay off in the long run."
"If you are willing to do that," Bryant added, "more times than not, you will be OK."
Anthony hasn't shown the stomach to do anything close to that here in New York. Earlier this season, he initially caused a stir by saying he did intend to opt out and explore the free-agency market -- only to moonwalk back from the statement a month later and say he wants to retire as a Knick. Nor did Anthony call out J.R. Smith for his numskull antics and failure to know game situations before or after coach Mike Woodson finally did so, benching Smith. Anthony should've come down on Smith, too.
But with the NBA trade deadline now just over a month away, the pressure is going to rachet up, on both the Knicks and Anthony, to declare their intentions a bit more.
The Knicks have to decide whether they should trade Anthony rather than risk letting him walk without getting any compensation. That would only add to the franchise's already long list of disasters.
But Anthony needs to figure out what he wants to do, too, rather than let his future just happen to him. And if, by some chance, he really does want to stay in New York, it wouldn't be the craziest decision ever.
The Garden was electric Friday night when Anthony poured in a franchise-record 62 points against the Charlotte Bobcats. It's not hard to imagine how nuts the city would be if Anthony was the guy who ended 40-plus years without a championship, dating back to Red Holzman and Clyde Frazier and Earl Monroe.
"This is the mecca of basketball," Bryant said. "There is so much history here and the culture of the game and what this building means. This is the last one left in terms of all the history."
Don't forget, too, that the other rumored landing spots for Anthony come with baggage, too. Chicago just got rid of Luol Deng. The Bulls would still have to create cap room to pay Anthony a max salary, and who knows how good oft-injured Derrick Rose will be when he comes back? There are also constant rumblings that coach Tom Thibodeau -- whom Anthony likes -- doesn't get along with his bosses and may not want to stay with the Bulls.
The Lakers aren't what they used to be, either. So far, Jimmy Buss has shown little of the skill his father, Jerry, had for running the team. Even Magic Johnson has spoken out against the younger Buss. And general manager Mitch Kupchak is no Jerry West.
The Lakers left New York on Sunday having lost 13 of their past 16 games. Even Bryant admitted that players around the league are questioning the attractiveness of playing with him because they don't know what he has left physically. He'll be 36 next season, and he's had three leg injuries in the past year.
"Emotionally, the drive and the competitiveness -- everybody knows what I'm about,'' Bryant told reporters during a November stop in Washington. "But I'm sure they kind of want to see what's going on, if I still have it.''
Of course, that kind of frank self-assessment didn't stop Bryant from smiling slyly Sunday and making a joke when asked directly about the rumors that Anthony wants to play with him.
"Well, everybody wants to play in Los Angeles -- I mean, New York is a beautiful place, don't get me wrong, but it is colder than [crap] out here," Bryant said with a laugh. "Palm trees and beaches obviously are a little more appealing."
That quote had clearly made it back to Anthony by the time the game ended. Bryant intercepted him at midcourt at halftime, and, judging by the way they broke up laughing, he might've told Anthony about it himself right then.
When asked after the game about what Bryant had said to him, Anthony smiled and said, "Man, I can't give y'all everything."
Then, laughing knowingly, he didn't make a single mention of palm trees or beaches. "I love the snow," Anthony cracked instead.
If that's true -- if there is any chance that he does want to stay with the Knicks -- Anthony should take Bryant's advice before the trade deadline. Rattle some cages. Hack some people off. Kick down a few doors and demand a culture change.
The Nice Guy act makes Anthony likable. But here, of all places, it's not going to win him any rings.
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