Sunday, December 11, 2011
Kobe Bryant: 'Tough' to sit back
By Dave McMenamin
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The new-day, new-drama motif that has marked the opening of Los Angeles Lakers training camp continued Sunday as the team held its first media day since 2003 without Lamar Odom on the roster.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant did not take a wait-and-see approach before voicing his opinion of the deal that sent Odom, along with a 2012 second-round pick, to the Dallas Mavericks for a $8.9 million trade exception, as well as Dallas' 2012 first-round pick.
He was quite clear that he was unhappy.
"I don't like it," Bryant said. "To be honest with you, I don't like it."
Odom was not present at the practice facility while his teammates spoke to reporters and posed for photos in their gold home jerseys.
Bryant didn't wait until it was official to speak about the trade.
"You're talking about the Sixth Man of the Year last year," Bryant said. "He played lights out. I don't understand the criticism of reality shows and this, that and the other. I don't get it. I don't understand that. He had his best season last season, clearly wasn't a distraction, and he played his ass off. I don't get where that comes from."
Late Saturday night, Odom's wife and reality TV co-star, Khloe Kardashian, tweeted, "I am curious as to how I am the cause for any trade?"
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle also spoke before the deal was completed on Sunday.
"Right now, for me, having Odom, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, we may have the best forward trio in this league right now. And that's exciting," Carlisle said. "Lamar Odom is a guy we have great respect for as a person and as an all-around player in this league. We feel he's going to add so many different dimensions for us -- length, playmaking, scoring, experience, championship experience."
As Bryant continued to answer questions about Odom joining the team that swept the Lakers out of the second round of the playoffs last spring, his anger grew.
"Now I'm getting pissed off," he said.
Bryant said he was "especially" upset about Odom joining the Mavs, who not only beat the Lakers, but beat them by 36 points in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals to put an end to the Phil Jackson era.
Bryant would not even call the Mavericks by name, instead referring to Dallas as "that team" on several occasions.
He did call the Mavericks owner by name, however.
"I don't think Mark Cuban is protesting this trade," Bryant said, adding a sarcastic smirk.
Odom, 32, averaged 14.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season while shooting a career-high 53 percent from the field in his 12th season in the league.
While being honored as the league's top substitute for filling in for Pau Gasol at forward when Gasol needed a break, Odom also started 35 games, making up for Andrew Bynum in the starting five when the center was out because of injury or suspension.
"The identity of our team will have to change in terms of how we go about doing things," Bryant said. "You have to search for it and find what that is."
Odom was also a strong presence in the locker room and an emotional leader of the team.
"I've known Lamar for a long time and for the team itself, he's meant a lot in terms of his versatility and his personality," Bryant said. "He's a big presence for us in the locker room, just from a team chemistry standpoint. He's great at bringing guys together and things of that nature."
Lakers co-captain Derek Fisher echoed Bryant's thoughts.
"What more could he do?" Fisher said. "He's been asked to play a different role, maybe a lesser role than he'd play on a lesser team, and he did that. He did what he was asked to do, the team wins two championships, goes to another [NBA] Finals. As a basketball player, it confuses you as to what your focus should be. If your focus is
about making sacrifices, making less money, playing a lesser role to be a part of a championship team, it doesn't seem like the reward fits anymore.
"The reward is, when something else better comes along, you're going to be traded and pushed out. That's just not a message that you'd want a friend or a teammate to have to experience, but at the same time we know that's a part of what this business is now."
Bryant left the pack of reporters when he was done speaking and immediately made his way up a flight of stairs to general manager Mitch Kupchak's office.
While Bryant has been critical of Kupchak in the past, he offered his support Sunday.
"I trust management knows what they're doing," Bryant said. "I'll let them do their jobs and I'll never get in the way of it, but it's tough.
"You got to let Mitch do his job. Look, Mitch has proven himself over the course of the years that he's been able to build a great team here. We have to all trust that he's going to do that."
Bryant acknowledged the sentiment that the Odom deal might precede another move by Lakers management, perhaps to secure Dwight Howard from Orlando.
"Whether they have something else going on, that's on them to decide," Bryant said.
Lakers forward Matt Barnes, a former teammate of Howard's, said he has spoken to the Magic center about the trade speculation but would not characterize the talks as pitches to come to L.A.
"He has a tough decision to make," Barnes said. "There's teams pulling at him every way. We just have real talks, more than anything about him being a Laker. He's got to do what's best for him and his family and what makes him happy."
Bryant, however, said he has not spoken to Howard, who he played with on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, and would not entertain how the Lakers would look if the three-time Defensive Player of the Year was traded to L.A.
"If?" Bryant said. "If it happens, I'll give you my thoughts then."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from ESPNDallas.com's Jeff Caplan was used in this report.