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The 2013-14 season was a dismal one for the Los Angeles Lakers. The team went 27-55 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
To make matters worse, the future doesn't look much brighter. Kobe Bryant is now 36, and Los Angeles doesn't have an heir in place.
On Tuesday, Lakers president Jeannie Buss told ESPN's SportsCenter, "Any free agent that would be afraid to play with Kobe Bryant is probably a loser, and I'm glad they wouldn't come to the team."
Buss was reacting to a new article for ESPN The Magazine in which hoops writer Henry Abbott attempts to sort out how the Lakers — a storied franchise with money to burn -- ended up in this predicament. His explanation can be summarized in two words: Blame Kobe.
Citing a number of anonymous sources, Abbott — who has appeared on Only A Game several times — claims that Kobe has scared off the kinds of big-name superstars who have historically busted down the door for a place in Tinseltown:
"Peek behind the banners," says one longtime NBA agent, "and it's rotten."
"Kobe is like the big rock in their front yard," says an agent who has had a Lakers client in recent years. "You can't mow over it, so you just have to mow around it."
Another agent with current Lakers clients was asked whether Bryant undermined the team's rebuilding by alienating would-be free agent recruits. "Well, duh," he replied. "Isn't that obvious?"
Among the critical anecdotes Abbott includes is a story about Dwight Howard's departure from the Lakers. Before the star center opted to leave L.A. for the Houston Rockets, Howard, Abbott writes, met with Bryant and Lakers point guard Steve Nash:
When Howard asked why his teammates let the injured center take all the flak when the Lakers' season went south, Nash said he didn't know that Howard had felt that way and that had he known, he would have acted differently. Bryant, on the other hand, offered a crash course in developing thick skin and a mini lecture on learning how to win. Sources told ESPN Insider Chris Broussard that Bryant's lecture was "a complete turnoff" for Howard.
Abbott also writes about the Lakers' attempt to land rising star and Los Angeles native Paul George:
Paul George, Angelino through and through, had once been the team's safest choice. But sources say one reason the two-way star had re-signed with the Pacers in the fall of 2013 instead was that he was turned off by the thought that Bryant would police his efforts.
Since Abbott's piece was published Monday, criticism has been swift and sharp. George himself has taken to Twitter to respond:
Now how crazy does that Kobe story sound to you ? #MediaReachingAgain
— Paul George (@Yg_Trece) October 20, 2014
Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist and long-time Lakers fan Flea slammed the report, which prompted former Lakers coach Phil Jackson to second the opinion:
“@flea333: henry abbott your @espn kobe article is absolute garbage and a blatant irresponsible attack. "Go get'em, Flea
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) October 21, 2014
While Kobe declined to comment for Abbott's story, the 16-time All-Star did speak with reporters after the Lakers' preseason game Tuesday night.
"It's not the first one and it won't be the last one," Kobe told ESPN. "I just kind of roll with it."
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