- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
MIAMI -- Having only played in six of the Los Angeles Lakers' first 43 games this season, Kobe Bryant does not feel he is deserving of his starting All-Star bid and plans to sit out the Feb. 16 game in New Orleans.
"With all due respect to the fans that voted me in, I certainly appreciate that, they know how much I appreciate that, but you got to do the right thing as well," Bryant said before the Lakers' 109-102 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday night. "My fans know you got to reward these young guys for the work that they've been putting in."
Bryant spoke to the media just minutes after the league announced the starters for the 63rd annual All-Star Game next month. Bryant was selected to play in the 16th All-Star Game of his 18-year career, as he finished with 988,884 votes, second among Western Conference guards (Golden State's Stephen Curry had 1,047,281) and fifth overall among all players.
Without naming names, Bryant, 35, said that some of the league's rising stars -- Portland's 23-year-old guard Damian Lillard (280,966 votes) and Houston's 24-year-old James Harden (470,381 votes) come to mind -- belong there more than he does.
"I think it's important for them to go in and perform," Bryant said. "They've been playing all season. They deserve to be in there. They deserve to play. So, I see no reason why they shouldn't be out there doing their thing."
Some Lakers likened Bryant's selection to a kind of career achievement award.
"He's being voted, obviously, in what he's done in the past. Not what he's done this year," coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Pau Gasol, a four-time All-Star himself, said it comes with the territory of Bryant's enormous popularity.
"Kobe's Kobe," Gasol said. "There's only one of him, and I think people want to see him. It is what it is. That's how the system works. He didn't play much this year, but I think he gets the credit from such a tremendous career as a superstar."
Bryant, sidelined since Dec. 17 with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee and averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.5 percent shooting this season, has missed the Lakers' last 18 games. This is, of course, after missing the Lakers' first 19 games because of a torn Achilles in his left leg.
Bryant will be re-evaluated either Monday or Tuesday of next week when the team returns to L.A. after its current seven-game road trip, according to the Lakers. However, Bryant maintained that his examination will not occur until "February," effectively eliminating his chances of playing Tuesday against Indiana or Jan. 31 against Charlotte.
He added that his knee injury is not being hampered by his initial Achilles tear.
"I don't even worry about my Achilles," said Bryant, adding he is going through vigorous exercise bike workouts to stay in shape. "It's not even something that's on the radar anymore. It feels great."
He said he plans to return to the Lakers' lineup sometime before the All-Star Game.
"It wouldn't be enough to have me be deserving to play in the All-Star Game," Bryant said.
The five-time champion was wary of a stipulation in the league's collective bargaining agreement that requires elected players to perform in the All-Star Game if they are healthy enough to do so.
"If I played [for the Lakers] before [the All-Star Game], the rule is you got to go in there and play or miss the next two games," said Bryant. "So, that just means somebody would have to lose a spot, unfortunately and the back-ups would be playing a lot, because I'd go in there and do my two minutes and sit out."
While Bryant referenced a rule, no such rule is believed to actually be in the NBA's handbook. A league source said that the automatic two-game suspension that Bryant referred to was "not really true."
Bryant was in a similar situation the last time the All-Star Game was held in New Orleans in 2008, coincidentally. Bryant was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his right pinkie finger shortly before the game was held. Because Bryant gutted out the injury in games for the Lakers, he was urged by the league to play in the exhibition. The four-time All-Star MVP played just 2:52 with the pinkie injury, registering one rebound and no shot attempts before calling it a night.
A reporter reminded him that New Orleans will be the final All-Star Game for commissioner David Stern before he hands off his post to Adam Silver, perhaps trying to get Bryant to change his tune.
"I've said goodbye to him plenty," Bryant said. "He's a phone call away."
Thursday also happened to be the eight-year anniversary of Bryant scoring 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors, prompting him to be asked if Kevin Durant -- who has four games of 46 points or more for the Oklahoma City Thunder so far this month -- could ever best his mark.
"It can happen, for sure," Bryant said. "It's just one of those things. Nobody thought that 80 would be possible and then it happened. So, you never know."
Durant, who leads the league in scoring with a 31.0 points per game average, was one of three players that Bryant mentioned as being deserving of the league MVP, along with Miami's LeBron James and Indiana's Paul George.
"He's a phenomenal scorer," Bryant said of Durant. "He can put the ball down on the floor. He can post. He can finish at the rim. Midrange. Shoot from distance. Left hand. Right hand. He can do virtually everything."
The conversation shifted to another do-everything type of player: Michael Jordan. Bryant responded to former coach Phil Jackson's assertion during a recent interview with Fox Sports 1 that Jordan would beat the Lakers' star 1-on-1.
"It would be a fight," Bryant said, smiling. "It just is what it is. I'd win some. He'd win some. It'd be fun."
Bryant also wanted to clear up Jackson's recollection of the first time Bryant and Jordan met. In Jackson's version of events, the first thing that an eager, young Bryant told the accomplished Jordan was that he could beat him 1-on-1.
"That's a bit of a myth," Bryant said. "I'm a big s--- talker but Michael is, too. It's not something that I spark up out of the conversation out of the blue to say that to Mr. Jordan ... You can imagine the conversation and the dialogue."
Having only played in six of the Los Angeles Lakers' first 43 games this season, Kobe Bryant does not feel he is deserving of his starting All-Star bid and plans to sit out the Feb. 16 game in New Orleans.