by Lang Whitaker

I have a group of about five guys who I consider my best friends. I’ve been friends with all of them for at least a decade, and one of the guys I’ve known since I was five years old. We all grew up together, went to high school together and have stayed in touch our entire lives.

(Actually, one of these guys got a new job a few weeks ago working for the government. He’s been on the job for about three weeks now. Yesterday, I got a letter from the government — they said they were suckers! — with a series of questions about my friend. Across the top it said “INVESTIGATIVE REQUEST FOR PERSONAL INFORMATION,” and it says my friend listed me as a reference. It’s like a standardized test form, with bubbles to darken underneath each question. And the questions, they’re hilarious. “Do you have any reason to question this person’s honesty or trustworthiness?” The answers available are “Yes” and “No” — unfortunately, there’s no box called “Yes, even though I know of about 100 lies he told to his parents and teachers throughout middle school and high school.” I called my friend last night and asked him if he knew about this form, and he said he’d put me down as a reference, but he’d already been on the job for almost a month so it seemed strange that they’d ask for a recommendation at this point. It’s funny to me that they’d ask such specific personal questions on a recommendation form, because most people probably wouldn’t give up the contact info of people who would say bad things about them. Then again, maybe they’re just making sure you have good friends. Either way, we decided that I’d write him a glowing recommendation in the hopes that they’ll read it and immediately give him a promotion.)

Anyway, all of my best friends are basketball fans, probably not as hardcore as most Linkstigators, but they watch the NBA on TNT and games on ESPN. And whenever something major is going on in the NBA, they all email me to see if I know anything about it.

This morning, I had about six or seven emails from my friends asking if I knew anything about the Kobe situation.

And here I was thinking it wasn’t that big of a deal. After all, what exactly happened?

Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, in his regular training camp round table discussion with the Lakers beat writers, mentioned that if someone came to him and wanted to talk about trading for Kobe, Dr. Buss would “certainly listen.” Now, does that mean Kobe’s on the trading block, that the Lakers are actively trying to move Kobe? Certainly not, at least not to me.

To me it means that Dr. Buss is being a good owner. Yes, he has the greatest player in the game wearing his chain, but he also realizes his Lakers are a very bad team who are painted into a corner. There’s not many ways for this team to improve right now, and if someone comes to Buss with a huge, huge offer, he’d be stupid not to listen, wouldn’t he?

Perhaps his error in this was admitting to the media that he’d be willing to listen. But if he doesn’t say that, how does he get word out to all the owners? Sure, they could call around to all the franchises and mention that they’d listen, but then word would leak out to a columnist and the whole thing would seem kind of sordid. This way at least it’s coming from the mouth of the guy holding the purse strings.

So there was that episode. That happened last Wednesday in Hawaii, while I was out there. The next day, Thursday, some of the Lakers players were talking about it in the locker room, just asking each other what exactly Buss had said. All of the media there (three Lakers beat writers and me) were hanging around hoping to ask Kobe about it, but he never came through. Normally this isn’t that big a deal, as I’ve been to a lot of preseason games where the big name guys barely play or don’t even talk to the press. That’s what Kobe did. I actually saw him after the game, walking from the locker room to the trainer’s room to get iced down, but he didn’t stop and speak to anyone.

In fact, Kobe didn’t really speak on any of this until yesterday, when he said, “I’m just getting ready. If I’m here, I’m ready to strap it up. My job is to play the game and get ready to play the game, and that’s what I’m doing.”

OK? So can we all just move on?

Apparently not. People are talking about it, blogging about it, emailing (me) about it. Why? Because Kobe’s the best player in the game.

I, however, don’t think it’s that big a deal. This stuff is typical NBA, where what should be a minor story gets inflated into something huge and unwieldy. Check this ESPN story: “Kobe denies report of cleaning out locker.”

Will Kobe be traded? Never say never, but it’s going to take a lot for the Lakers to move him. And a couple of NBA people I spoke with yesterday told me that they wouldn’t want Kobe anyway because he’d be arriving with a lot of baggage. But I’d take him in a flash, particularly if I was an Eastern Conference team. Kobe and four NBDL dudes might make the Finals coming from the East.

The point of all this is that Kobe is not getting traded, at least not anytime soon. How do I know? Because a person deep in the NBA told me a long time ago that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And there’s no real smoke here. There may be a few sparks, but there’s no smoke, not yet at least.

If we reach the point where Kobe’s about to be moved, there will be mushroom clouds of smoke billowing from L.A.

But for now, this is just people trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.