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Thursday, June 28, 2007
Buss won't reveal what Lakers plan to do news services

Los Angeles is never short on drama, but the Lakers look like they're hosting their own reality show lately. Will the star leave? Can a new co-star save the day? Is the draft going to help "Showtime?"

Lakers owner Jerry Buss didn't have a lot of answers on Wednesday. In his first interview since Kobe Bryant demanded a trade, Buss said the team is still trying ... to do something.

He wouldn't tell ESPN's Jim Gray if he was disappointed that Bryant had requested a trade. And Buss offered a "no comment" when asked if he would trade the star. But on the heels of a run for the Timberwolves' Kevin Garnett, he did say that the team has remained active in trade talks.

"Well, we are trying. We will make a deal if it improves the team but not just to make a deal, but if it makes us better," Buss said.

Buss said his latest meeting with Bryant was "very cordial," but he also admitted that he has some issues to deal with regarding the franchise.

"It is something that I have to address, and I am," he said. "I have been doing this for years, so I will handle this. I will do what's best for the organization."

General manager Mitch Kupchak and his staff, meanwhile, deal with trade talks and prepare for Thursday's draft, which could still be an important element in the Lakers' future.

"Right now, we're preparing to make all three choices," Kupchak said, referring to the team's 19th, 40th and 48th overall selections.

But he doesn't expect all three to be with the Lakers next season. Rather, one or two could be playing in the Development League or somewhere else.

And then there's the health of the team. Starters Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown have had offseason operations, leaving their status in question although Kupchak said he expects both to be ready when training camp begins.

The No. 1 need appears to be a ball-handling guard, but it's unlikely the Lakers will go in that direction with the No. 19 pick since they already have a young player who fills that role in Jordan Farmar.

"We like Jordan Farmar, we think he has a bright future in this league," Kupchak said of the former UCLA star who was the Lakers' first-round choice last June. "That being said, we probably need another ball-handling guard in addition to Jordan Farmar."

That means the Lakers will pursue that need via a trade or free agency. Kupchak said neither Smush Parker nor Aaron McKie, a pair of guards who played for the Lakers the past two years, will return next season. Since they're over the salary cap, the Lakers can't pursue high-priced free agents, but they have the midlevel and minimum exceptions.

Kupchak said the Lakers hope to re-sign free agent forward Luke Walton, and might be interested in doing the same with center Chris Mihm, who didn't play last season after undergoing ankle surgery.

This draft is considered one of the deepest in years, but Kupchak is uncertain whether the Lakers can take a player with the 19th pick who can make a significant contribution next season.

"Normally, your first-round picks in the 20s, even in the teens, don't make an impact in year one," he said. "You'll see a lot of quality big men in the first 10 picks, which is unusual. It's a strong draft."

The Lakers began last season by winning 26 of their first 39 games, but lost 27 of their last 43 to finish 42-40 before being eliminated by Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.

That prompted Bryant to demand changes, ultimately leading to the trade request. The NBA's leading scorer the past two seasons is under contract for the next four years at $88.6 million, but can terminate the contract after the 2008-09 season.

Nevertheless, Kupchak indicated he wasn't panicking.

"There are no guarantees, there's no magic wand," Kupchak said. "Confidence and chemistry play a big role. We did not have that in the last six weeks of the season. We felt the team underachieved. Come February, we hit the skids and went the other way.

"We could stick with the group as it is today or we can look to be aggressive and try to get to that next level. Either way, we think we'll be a talented team next year."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.