By GLENN MINNIS
Kobe Bryant still talks a good game, even as his Los Angeles Lakers no longer appear capable of backing up his words or giving power to his boastful admonishment.
Soon after the Lakers' franchise-worst 27-55 season was over, Bryant weighed in, imploring L.A. fans to flush the stench of it from their collective psyches with the assurance that next season "will be epic."
But in truth, how can they really convince themselves into delving such a euphoric state-of-mind when nowadays nothing ever seems to go right for the franchise that boasts Bryant, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West as its headline acts and 16 NBA titles as the basis for the franchise's magical storyline?
Now, fast–forward to today and ask yourself, with all their historical pizzazz and current salary cap space, how is it the Lakers will almost certainly be the last-place finishers in the high-stakes game to land either LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony in this summer free agency?
In years past, Hall of Famers, Abdul Jabbar, O'Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone have all forced their way to L.A. because ... well, it's the home of Lakers' Nation. But now, in the age of the recruitment of James and Anthony, the best reason GM Mitch Kupchak could recently voice for arguably two of the league's top five players not moving heaven and earth to somehow join the franchise is "why not?"
Mind you, this all comes on the heels of Dwight Howard bolting the fabled franchise last summer for the far less glamorous confines of Houston, at a personal cost to himself of some $25 million, no less.
"This is a championship franchise," said Kupchak, seemingly in denial as much as Bryant about the once Showtime Lakers modern-day status. "As long as Kobe is on this team, we have to believe we can contend for a championship," he added of the 35-year-old Hall of Fame bound guard who lasted all of six games last season.
Kupchak has to know subbing Luol Deng and Caron Butler for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, which the Lakers are rumored to be earnestly considering if their play for the two stars fizzles out as it almost certainly will, does not equate to the same thing - even when you have Kobe Bryant in the mix.
In short, the Lakers are desperate for a new identity and Kobe boasting from the strength of who they used to be simply won't cut it. In his heart of hearts, even Kobe Bryant has come to realize this. To rant about anything else simply has to be the competitor in him talking.
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