Marty Burns
Thursday November 8th, 2007

Kobe. Kobe. Kobe.

It's all anybody's talking about here these days. The Bulls are 0-4 heading into Thursday night's game against the Pistons, and a growing chorus of fans and media is clamoring for the Lakers' superstar.

There was even a story in the gossip pages that Bryant was thinking of buying Michael Jordan's home in suburban Chicago, which is reportedly for sale, in the event the trade went through.

(Imagine that. Bryant actually living in MJ's old house while playing for the Bulls. Sounds like one for Oprah and Dr. Phil).

Whatever the case, these Bulls fans apparently didn't hear general manager John Paxson last week say the trade talks for Bryant were dead.

Either that, or they don't want to believe him.

"It's not going to end," Bulls forward Luol Deng said recently of the Kobe interest swirling around the Windy City. "You can tell Kobe doesn't want to be in L.A. With a player like Kobe, every team is going to see what's going on."

Many fans apparently have seen enough this year to decide that they'd like to see Bryant in a Bulls uniform. Despite lofty expectations, Chicago has dropped its first four contests to the Nets (in OT), Sixers, Bucks and Clippers. Its offense has been anemic, ranking in the NBA's bottom three in points and field goal percentage.

On Tuesday, the Bulls blew a fourth-quarter lead to a Clippers team without Elton Brand. Ben Gordon shot 4-of-18. During the fourth quarter, chants of "Kobe!, Kobe!, Kobe!" could be heard in the United Center.

There are plenty of reasons for Chicago's dismal start: Ben Wallace, bothered by a sprained ankle suffered late in the preseason, has been terrible; Joe Smith is just now getting acclimated after missing most of the preseason with a knee injury; Tyrus Thomas, for all his athleticism, is still learning the NBA game; and Gordon and Deng might well be pressing a bit after not getting contract extensions.

But the real problem for the Bulls is that they don't have a legitimate go-to guy. Usually they get away with it. They hustle. They defend. They run their sets with precision. But when their outside shots aren't falling, as has been the case so far this season, they struggle.

The funny thing is how fickle fans can be. Last year it seemed most Chicago hoopheads didn't want anything to do with Bryant. They were proud of their scrappy little Bulls team and didn't want to break it up.

Now they appear willing to send Deng, Gordon and maybe a deep-dish pizza to L.A. for the disgruntled star.

Clippers forward Corey Maggette, a Chicago native, seemed almost amused by the reaction.

"I'm really surprised [at their slow start]," he said. "Scott Skiles does a great job, all their players work extremely hard, and they have a lot of talent. ... Sometimes it gets like that. You go 0-4, and next thing you know, you go 12-2. It's nothing to get down about."

Maggette is probably right. The Bulls likely will work their way out of it. Wallace will get healthy. Smith will shore up the power forward spot. Gordon will start making shots. Chicago will go on and win its 45-50 games. After all, slow starts are nothing new for these guys. Two years ago, they started 0-9 and made the playoffs.

"We're not in any sort of panic mode or anything," Skiles said.

Still, there is a definite feeling among many Bulls observers that this team might have maxed out on the hard-work-and-hustle thing. If Chicago wants to get to the championship level, it might need to acquire a legitimate go-to guy.

Paxson hasn't said if he plans to get Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak back on the phone, but he appeared to leave the door open when he announced the end of talks last week. "Who knows?" he conceded. "I don't have a crystal ball."

It's starting to become crystal clear how many Bulls fans feel.

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