Kobe should pick the Clips

Updated: July 15, 2004, 6:05 PM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider

Phil Jackson is out. Shaq is in South Beach. Kobe?

  ESPN Insider Chad Ford stepped into The Show's chat room Thursday after Kobe Bryant's decision and took your questions on the Lakers, Clippers and a number of other developing NBA situations:
  • Ford: Chat wrap
  • Paging Kobe Bryant ...

    At 3 p.m. ET today, noon in L.A., Kobe is expected to announce his decision.

    The Lakers and Clippers are the final two contestants in the Kobe sweepstakes.

    The Bulls were the suprise players in the sweepstakes. They might have been Kobe's first choice, but the only way Chicago could've landed Kobe was via sign-and-trade, something the Lakers just weren't going to entertain. Still you have to wonder, if the Lakers catch wind that Kobe's going to the Clippers, maybe they'll change their stance. A deal including Eddy Curry and Ben Gordon would've been better than nothing.

    So, Lakers or Clippers?

    We've all believed that, given the events over the past two weeks, that the Lakers were the heavy favorites to retain Kobe.

    The Lakers dumped the coach he hated. They shipped off the most dominant player in the league to accommodate him. Their owner, Jerry Buss, has begged on bended knee. They can offer him a seven-year deal worth $136 million -- as much as $30 million more than the Clippers can offer.

    The Lakers still have a solid roster with Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant coming into the fold. They still have Gary Payton, Devean George, Kareem Rush, Luke Walton, Brian Cook and rookie Sasha Vujacic to surround him with. The team also has its full mid-level exception and is trying to lure a big man like Erick Dampier with it. Coach Rudy Tomjanovich is a class act. He's a winner and has a great rapport with his players.

    Kobe Bryant
    Getty ImagesIf Kobe truly wants a challenge, he'll choose the Clippers.
    Most importantly, the Lakers have the purple and gold. They have instant credibility and a storied history. They are the Yankees of the NBA. Everyone outside of L.A. hates them, but there isn't a player in the league who doesn't want to don their jersey. Buss is handing the team to Kobe. By the time this offseason makeover is complete, Kobe would not only wear the captain label, he'd also inherit the titles of GM and King of the Lakers.

    That's the upside. But there's a rather large downside to returning to the Lakers that no one has bothered to mention. The Shaq trade hurts the Lakers tremendously. I'm a big Odom fan, and I think Butler has a chance to become a star. But the Lakers, with the roster they've now configured, are no better than the fifth-best team in the West -- possibly worse.

    If Shaq blows up in Miami and the Lakers stumble out of the gate in the West, the floodgates will open. Kobe will take the blame for breaking up the marriage and causing the team's demise. The retribution from the media will be swift and ferocious. The Lakers won't be the team Kobe built --they'll be the one he destroyed.

    The Clippers' history, on the other hand, is much more sordid than storied. Their owner, Donald Sterling, is synonymous with cheapskate. The team has just one measly playoff appearance in the past 10 years. It has had a winning record once in the past 24 years. There are no banners. No titles. There is no honor in being a Clipper.

    Kobe knows it. But his ego tells him things could be very different if he was running the ship. With Kobe, the Clippers would field one of the best teams in the league.

    Elton Brand is an unselfish, 20-and-10 guy and low-post warrior who does all the little things a championship-type team needs. Corey Maggette has improved every season and, at the still young age of 24, has the potential to be Kobe's Scottie Pippen. Chris Kaman is one of the best young big men in the game. Shaun Livingston, the Clippers' first-round draft choice, has more potential than anyone drafted in June. He's unselfish -- a kid who wants 20 assists, not 20 points a night. Marko Jaric and Chris Wilcox are formidable pieces off the bench. Their coach, Mike Dunleavy, is experienced and has a great rapport with Kobe.

    The Clips, even with Kobe, won't be ready yet. Livingston is too young, and Brand, Maggette and Kaman have never played a playoff game. But Kobe is just 25 years old. He knows the drill. Unlike the Lakers, where anything short of a championship is a failure, he can afford to be patient with the Clippers. He recognizes they don't have to win the title overnight.

    Making the playoffs would be expected with Bryant on the roster. But anything else would be gravy. A run to the Western Conference Finals, a distinct possibility with this team, would mean more on that side of the Staples Center than another title with the Lakers. A Clippers title? That's one of the signs of the apocalypse, isn't it?

    When Phil Jackson took the Lakers coaching job, more than a few people rolled their eyes. Jackson's "challenge" wasn't much of one. Anything short of multiple championships with a team that had the two best players in the game would've been a monumental failure for Phil. Had he chosen to coach the Clippers? Then we would've been impressed.

    The same challenge awaits Kobe.

    He can play it safe, take the money and return to the Lakers. The purple and gold will be his recruiting call. Eventually, Buss and Kupchak will spend enough to put them back into contention. Three or four years from now, Kobe could stand on a podium, holding the golden Finals trophy above his head, and he can tell the world, "I told you I could do it without Shaq." We would cheer, nod knowingly, and then ask, under our breath, "Well, how many trophies would you have if you had chosen to get along with the Big Fella?"

    Or he can take the mission impossible. He can etch his name into the very fabric of a tattered franchise. Kobe or no Kobe, the Lakers will always be Magic, Wilt, Kareem, West and Shaq. The Clippers could be Kobe's forever.

    We'll learn a lot about Kobe Bryant in the coming hours. We'll learn whether this was just a power-play -- a desperate, vengeful purge against enemies, both perceived and real. Or whether this was truly about the challenge. About doing something bold and special with his career. About taking the path less traveled and transcending the game in the process.

    Pick the Clips, Kobe. Pick the Clips.

    Kenyon strikes gold

    The Nuggets called the Nets' bluff Tuesday night when they announced they were prepared to offer Kenyon Martin an offer sheet with an up-front $15 million signing bonus. Wednesday night, the Nets blinked.

    The Nets re-engaged in sign-and-trade talks with Denver on Wednesday afternoon, and by evening the sides were close to an agreement that would make Martin a Nugget for the next seven years. The deal reportedly would send three future first-round picks to the Nets in return for Martin, who would sign a seven-year, $90 million contract with New Jersey, then be traded to Denver.

    Kenyon Martin
    Power Forward
    New Jersey Nets
    65 16.7 9.5 2.5 .488 .684

    It's a best-case scenario for the Nuggets, who had been maintaining for a week that signing Martin to an offer sheet, one the Nets could have taken 15 days to match, was a "last resort." By working out a sign-and-trade, the Nuggets lose some valuable assets but know immediately Martin is theirs.

    The three first-round picks the Nets would be getting likely will include one of the Nuggets' own draft picks, along with picks the Nuggets own from the Sixers and Clippers. Both picks have the potential to be in the lottery. The Sixers pick is protected 1-8 for 2005; 1-5 for 2006 and has no protection for 2007. The Clippers' pick is top-14 protected in 2005 and has no protection for 2006. Obviously, if the Clippers land Kobe, their pick isn't as attractive.

    The trade gives Denver one of the more formidable front lines in the West, with Martin and Nene likely in the starting lineup and Marcus Camby coming off the bench. The team would use most, if not all, of its cap space to land Martin, meaning it still would not have addressed its need for a top shooting guard. However, the Nuggets chose not to waive their rights to Voshon Lenard on Wednesday, meaning that at least Lenard will be firing away next season.

    The trade also means the Nets really are slashing costs. They couldn't afford to keep Martin, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson on the books. Kidd already is a max player, and Jefferson will be looking for a big extension before the season opens.

    What will the Nets do to replace Martin? Insider reported Tuesday the team had re-started talks with the Blazers about acquiring Shareef Abdur-Rahim for Kerry Kittles and Aaron Williams. Abdur-Rahim is in the last year of his contract, which means he could help the Nets this year and bring salary-cap relief next summer.

    Knicks trying to land Dampier

    Isiah Thomas' first order of business is trying to land Erick Dampier, who would provide the Knicks some much-needed toughness in the middle. Thomas has offered Dikembe Mutombo (who is in the last year of his contract) and Nazr Mohammed (who, unfortunately, isn't) in return. So far the Warriors haven't agreed to anything.

    Golden State already has turned down an offer of Shane Battier and Lorenzen Wright from the Grizzlies. They team also spiked an offer from the Pacers that would've sent Austin Croshere their way. The Knicks' offer isn't much better. The Warriors reportedly are hoping the Grizzlies will offer Stromile Swift in the deal via sign-and-trade. The Lakers are willing to offer Gary Payton and Devean George in a sign-and-trade, which may be the most attractive deal for the Warriors.

    If Golden State can't work out a sign-and-trade deal, Dampier likeky will be forced to either go to the Hawks, who have been pursuing him, or take the mid-level exception from a playoff-bound team like the Grizzlies, Knicks, Lakers or Pacers.

    Carter to the Mavericks?

    For the second straight day there was serious talk that Dallas was closing in on a trade for Vince Carter, despite the fact Raptors GM Rob Babcock sounded Wednesday like he didn't want to trade his only star.

    Vince Carter
    Toronto Raptors
    73 22.5 4.8 4.8 .417 .806

    "Any trade that would be entertained would only be a trade that makes us a better basketball team," Babcock told the Toronto Star. "I'm not going to make a trade just to trade Vince because of what's said in the newspapers. ... It's not going to happen unless it's a good deal for our team. I'll look after our team first, that's the most important thing."

    The deal, according to sources, would send Carter, Kurt Thomas, Shandon Anderson and Moochie Norris to the Mavericks. Michael Finley and Josh Howard would go to the Raptors. Antoine Walker and Jerome Moiso would go to the Knicks.

    The deal works for the Mavericks and Knicks. Carter is younger than Finley and a better draw at the box office, even if their basketball skills are relatively equal. Thomas gives the Mavericks much-needed toughness up front. Anderson and Norris have terrible contracts, but at least both players could be contributors in Dallas.

    The Knicks would shed three bad contracts and get back two players who could come off the payroll next year. That may not be Isiah's intention, however. Thomas has been in hot pursuit of Walker all summer and reportedly wants to keep him.

    The deal makes less sense for the Raptors. While Finley is a model citizen and one of the top two guards in the league, he's 31 and coming off his worst season in six years. Nagging injuries have taken their toll. He just isn't worth the money he's making anymore (four more years, $66.4 million). You can't trade away the franchise for a guy like Finley, no matter how hard he plays. Including Howard in the deal makes it more palatable, but it's still not enough to make sense for the Raptors.

    Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

    Chad Ford

    ESPN Senior Writer