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Friday, July 16, 2004
Former Heat players introduced

Associated Press

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- As the three players acquired from the Miami Heat for Shaquille O'Neal completed the formal portion of their introductory news conference, they were warmly greeted by a new teammate.

Kobe Bryant.
Kobe Bryant
The Lakers hope 5+1+55 really is more than 34.

A day after signing a seven-year, $136.4 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant made another trip to team headquarters from his Newport Beach home -- a drive of about an hour each way through Friday traffic.

The center of attention a day earlier, he kept a low profile until this news conference was over.

"I'm just here to show my support," Bryant said. "I came here to holler at them. We've added some great guys."

All three newcomers -- Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Caron Butler -- could join Bryant and perhaps Gary Payton in the Lakers' starting lineup next season.

It's a much younger, more athletic group than the Lakers have had in recent years, but, of course, it lacks the inside presence O'Neal provided.

"Hopefully we can bring Showtime back," Odom said. "It feels like a dream come true to me; it's like a baseball player dreaming about being a Yankee his whole life. I think we're all still a little shocked because it happened so fast."

The trade was completed Wednesday.

"There's nothing like playing with the Lakers. We all know that," Odom said. "I just want to make the best of it and I will make the best of it."

Nearly a year ago, Odom couldn't wait to get out of Los Angeles. After playing his first four NBA seasons with the Clippers, he signed a six-year, $65 million offer sheet with the Heat and didn't want his former team to match it.

Ultimately, the Clippers didn't. General manager Elgin Baylor cited "issues of character and other risks involved" in making that decision.

"They do drive me -- every day," Odom said of Baylor's comments.

Now 24, Odom was suspended for eight games after violating the league's drug policy in November 2002 and served a five-game drug suspension the previous March.

He's come a long way since that time, having been chosen to play for the U.S. Olympic team in Athens next month.

"I get an opportunity to play with two guys I'm familiar with," Odom said, referring to Butler and Grant. "The key word we always used with the Heat was disposition. Hopefully we're going to bring that same nasty disposition here."

Odom averaged 17.1 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists last season. Butler, also 24, averaged 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds, and the 32-year-old Grant averaged 7.1 points and 8.6 rebounds.

All three players expressed surprise at the trade.

"For me, the shock was, we pretty much had our foundation set in Miami," Butler said. "We understand it's business. I'm just glad to be here -- I'm very grateful. It's going to be a fun ride."

If the season began today, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Grant would be the Lakers' starting center. He's 4 inches shorter and about 100 pounds lighter than O'Neal.

"Shaquille O'Neal is probably the most dominant player in the game right now," said Grant, who has had surprising success defending O'Neal over the years despite being so much smaller.

"You're looking at three guys who were a tight unit," Grant said. "It's not really us coming in and filling that void. As a unit, we'll definitely be able to come in here with Kobe Bryant, one of the best players in the game, Gary Payton, the rest of the Lakers, and make some noise."

Grant, hampered over the years with tendinitis in both knees, said he's in good health, pointing out he played in all 82 regular-season games twice in his four years in Miami and 72 and 76 games the other two seasons.

"I don't feel like I have knee problems," he said.

Miami reached the second round of the playoffs this year despite losing its first seven regular-season games.