|Uncertainty reigns as Bryant, Lakers begin new season|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 29 October 2007 10:45|
Because of the difficulty involved in trading an NBA superstar, Bryant could play in a Los Angeles uniform for days, weeks or months, no matter how much he wants out or those in charge wish to move him.
Bryant professes to be very close to his coach and quite fond of his teammates. That's right, the same teammates he essentially badmouthed last spring when he complained about a lack of talent around him and asked to be traded.
``We have a good time together. We have a great chemistry,'' Bryant said. ``We get along on and off the court.''
The front office? That's clearly another matter, especially since Lakers owner Jerry Buss said earlier this month that he would listen to offers for Bryant, making his remarks after things had quieted with the start of training camp.
Bryant called the front office a mess when he asked to be traded five months ago. The Lakers had lost 27 of their last 43 games to finish 42-40 in the regular season, then were eliminated by the Phoenix Suns in five games in the first round of the playoffs.
Now, he's saying nothing of the sort.
``It's not my job to be worried about what management is doing. I voiced my frustrations over the summer and I just leave it there. When I'm here, wherever I'm at, I'm ready to go,'' Bryant said recently, sounding resigned to staying put.
With that in mind, Bryant pointed to improved defense as a must if the Lakers are going to accomplish anything of substance in the rugged Western Conference this season.
``We're doing better. That's something we're all focusing on,'' Bryant said. ``It's just about helping out as a unit. As a group, that's how you win ballgames. Defense is the key in the playoffs, no doubt about that.''
Once adversaries, Bryant and coach Phil Jackson have grown close, to the point where Jackson has served as a confidante since the two-time reigning scoring champion asked to be traded.
In fact, the 62-year-old Jackson has been offered a contract extension, but hasn't signed it yet, meaning this could be his final year as coach of the Lakers. He signed a three-year, $30 million contract before the 2005-06 season.
But even Jackson became peeved recently, saying Bryant doesn't appear to be giving his all.
``Obviously he hasn't thrown his heart and soul into performing on the floor,'' Jackson said over the weekend. ``That hurts me a little bit. ... He was going to work at this thing and put his full being into this. Right now, he's having a hard time doing that.''
Bryant, who missed the Lakers' final preseason game because of a sprained right wrist, said Jackson had nothing to worry about.
``That (should be) the least of his concerns or anybody's concerns,'' Bryant said. ``You don't have to worry about that. ... I'm ready to play, period. You don't have to worry about me.''
Bryant is expected to play Tuesday night when the Lakers open the season against Houston.
The Lakers haven't won a playoff series since Shaquille O'Neal was traded and Jackson left following the 2003-04 season. And that's the basis of Bryant's discontent.
But the Lakers have said they're not going to trade Bryant unless it's worth their while. The 29-year-old star is owed $88.6 million over the next four seasons, but can terminate his contract in two years.
Bryant also holds the NBA's only no-trade clause, and has a trade kicker of more than $9 million spread over two years for salary-cap purposes, meaning teams basically have to come up with players earning at least $20 million this year to make a deal, making it even more difficult to move him.
It seems unlikely the Lakers would trade him to a West team, further limiting their options.
The Lakers weren't able to accomplish much in the way of offseason additions, with Derek Fisher the only newcomer of substance, although first-round draft pick Javaris Crittenton has impressed.
Fisher should help, since he figures to be a steadying influence and defensive upgrade in the backcourt.
``Stability. He's extremely steady, a knockdown shooter,'' Bryant replied when asked what Fisher brought to the team.
Bryant and Fisher were teammates with the Lakers from 1996-2004.
``We just picked up right where we left off,'' Bryant said.
Oft-injured Lamar Odom, recovering from offseason surgery on his left shoulder, isn't quite ready to go, leaving the Lakers without their leading rebounder and second-leading scorer from last season for at least a few games.
``We've been without him since the start of training camp, so we have a way to play,'' Jackson said. ``Last year we didn't have Kobe and we found a way to win our first two games without him.''
Ronny Turiaf is likely to replace Odom in the starting lineup.
The Lakers are hopeful veterans Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown, and young Andrew Bynum will do a better job in the middle than last year, when Mihm couldn't play because of an injured ankle, Brown missed 41 games due to ankle and shoulder injuries, and Bynum faded badly down the stretch.
``Us going through a lot of stuff has made the team closer,'' forward Luke Walton said. ``Everybody's out there communicating, talking. Fish has done a great job of bringing everybody together.''
Fisher is more of a leader now than he was in his first stint with the Lakers.
``I like our talent,'' he said. ``We have some versatility and depth at several positions. Defensively, we still have a long way to go, how to cover for each other and protect each other on the floor.
``It seems at this point, there are more expectations from the outside than from the inside. I think at this point, we're still searching for who we are. We can't get ahead of ourselves and think we're the best team in basketball on Oct. 30.
Fisher has a different take than Bryant regarding team chemistry.
``I think it's just average right now,'' Fisher said. ``We have a young team. A lot of guys are getting to know each other. I think we can be a team that has great chemistry.''
And, he added, be successful if healthy.
``Yeah, no question,'' Fisher said. ``We need all of our guys to make that happen. If you don't have all of your guys for 70, 75 games, it's hard to win 50 games. We need everybody.''