Kobe Bryant bumped into Pau Gasol last summer, a chance meeting of players who at the time could have swapped stories about being unhappy with their teams.
Now that they're together again, summertime could be much more pleasant this year.
Gasol's trade from the Grizzlies to Los Angeles fulfills his wish to play for a winning team, and addresses Bryant's desire to upgrade the Lakers. It comes after Gasol had begun to doubt he'd get out of Memphis this season.
``I really didn't know. When it started off I thought I was going to be in Memphis,'' Gasol said. ``Just didn't have a whole lot of hope that I was going to be able to, or that they were going to let me go like that.''
Neither player had much hope last summer. The Lakers were coming off their second straight first-round loss in the playoffs, which Bryant followed by criticizing the front office and saying he wanted to be traded.
crossed paths with Gasol, who was back home preparing to play for Spain in the European championships.
``On vacation I work out still,'' Bryant said. ``I went and got my workout in and he was in the gym. We had a chance to chitchat a little bit.''
While Bryant's stance seemed clear, Gasol's wasn't. Last season, when Memphis was headed to a 22-60 finish, it was publicly known he wanted out and was involved in a number of trade rumors before the deadline. Perhaps resigned to being stuck in Memphis throughout this year, he was much quieter, but management knew how he felt.
``Last year I was a little more vocal about it I guess. Not so vocal with the media, but it got leaked out and it was all I big mess,'' Gasol said. ``It was very uncomfortable all the booing or a little bit of booing, but enough to make it very uncomfortable. I didn't really want to go through that.
``I told them one thing. 'Do you want to be in Memphis?' I said all I want to do is win. Winning makes me happy, so if we're not winning I'm unhappy. So if we're not winning that should answer all the other questions. So right now I have the opportunity to be on a great winning team and I'm going to try to make the best of it.''
Bryant plans to make sure that he does.
rtunity,'' Bryant said. ``It's going to be fun.''
GETTING THE POINT: Gregg Popovich needed a point guard who could score. Damon Stoudamire wanted to play in meaningful games.
They may have found the perfect match to keep the San Antonio Spurs on track while they play without Tony Parker.
Stoudamire signed with the Spurs last Saturday and moved right into the starting lineup, scoring 11 points on Tuesday in a victory at Indiana. The point guard hadn't played in a game since Dec. 30, before he fell out of the rotation in Memphis so the Grizzlies could focus on their young players. And it had been much longer since he played in one that really mattered.
So he went for the defending champions instead of teams such as Phoenix, Toronto or Boston, hoping he can spend a couple of years with a team that could contend for a championship in all of them.
``Out of all the teams I had to choose from, this team, the fact that they won it is obvious, but the fact that they're always in the middle of it every season,'' Stoudamire said. ``I wasn't looking for maybe trying to just be here short term. I was hoping I'd come in, do what I have to do, and then they'd look at me more long term.
``So that factored in a lot in the decision that I made, but the fact that they're always in the middle of it every year playing for something, that was big for me.''
left ankle, and Popovich has no plans to rush him back. But with the NBA finals MVP's 19.2 points per game on the bench, the Spurs needed to find some more scoring, which backup Jacque Vaughn doesn't provide.
So Popovich turned to Stoudamire, who has averaged 13.8 points during his 13 NBA seasons.
``We wanted to add offense to the group because we intermittently sputtered at the offensive end of the court and wanted to add someone who definitely added offense,'' Popovich said. ``Since Tony was a little bit hurt and Jacque had been hurt earlier in the season, we just thought we better hedge our bets there and have another point guard.
``And so when he became available, it answered both needs to have a third point guard in case of injury and someone who would add to the offense.''
CANDID KAMAN: The stats say Chris Kaman is having a great season. The standings say otherwise.
Playing without star forward Elton Brand, the Los Angeles Clippers are near the bottom of the Western Conference. But Kaman has done his part, averaging 17 points and 13.7 rebounds in what has easily been the best season of his five-year career.
``Yeah, but what does that mean?'' Kaman said. ``It's like no offense to (Minnesota's) Al Jefferson, he's having a monster year as well, but you want to have a monster year or do you want to win games? In the end (if) it's all about self-accolades, then that's fine if you do that. It just depends.
``Some guys like scoring the basketball and like rebounding, but they don't mind losing and I prefer just to win. I had a taste of the playoffs two years ago and I'd rather score 10 points and make the playoffs then score 25 or whatever it may be.''
Kaman's scoring average is up seven points from last season and he is third in the league in rebounds, two spots ahead of Jefferson. But both have gone largely unnoticed because their teams are so bad.
The Clippers' season was wrecked before it even started, as Brand ruptured his left Achilles tendon during a summer workout. He hopes to return sometime this season, but it will likely be too late by then, no matter how well Kaman plays.
``He can do things that not a lot of people in this league can do,'' Kaman said. ``Obviously great defense, rebounds the basketball. Missing a lot there you've got to pick up on and we've tried to do a good job, we just haven't came through with injuries, whatever it may be.
``It's on us. Injuries happen and we have to play through them and we haven't done a good job of holding the fort down while he's gone. And it's on us.''
O'BRIEN ON O'NEAL: Pacers coach Jim O'Brien expects Jermaine O'Neal back sometime after the All-Star break - in an Indiana uniform.
the All-Star game, and O'Neal's name will surely surface in some speculation before then.
The star forward was mentioned in deals with the Los Angeles Lakers and New Jersey Nets during the summer, but O'Brien doesn't think he needs to worry about talking to O'Neal about the topic in the coming days because he's not playing.
``If somebody was playing for you, you'd wonder where their mind-set is if there are trade rumors out there,'' O'Brien said. ``The fact is, we don't anticipate having him back until after the All-Star break and by that time I imagine he'll still be a Pacer.
``So all the rumors, if there are still any out there - and I haven't heard any frankly - will be for naught.''
O'Neal hasn't even played 70 games in a season since 2003-04, but O'Brien doesn't think the current injury will limit the former All-Star once he returns.
``When he comes back, we expect him to be full go. There's nothing that our people have seen that it's a long-term problem,'' O'Brien said. ``I fully expect to have him back at the end of this year and if he's a Pacer for two more years of his contract or longer than that, I fully expect him to play at 100 percent.''

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