Kobe Bryant blames owners
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant swears he's moved on from the three-team trade that was nixed by NBA commissioner David Stern last week, ultimately preventing the Los Angeles Lakers from acquiring Chris Paul.
But that doesn't mean Bryant is buying Stern's explanation that he acted independently of the protests of owners and vetoed the trade purely because of "basketball reasons."
"I think other owners did not want the Lakers to make significant improvements again," Bryant said after practice Thursday, hours before Paul's introductory news conference with the Los Angeles Clippers, less than five miles across town.
"We always contended as players that the lockout was really more so about the owners fighting amongst themselves, which is what you just saw [with the vetoed trade]," Bryant said. "You got Chris Paul coming here and the other owners weren't with that, because you don't want another great player coming to L.A., and all of the sudden Los Angeles has another player that can carry them on well after I retire. So, it's more about the owners bickering amongst themselves."
Bryant added that the Lakers were "getting hammered" by the new tenets of the recently ratified collective bargaining agreement, which will include a revenue sharing obligation of $50 million per season by the Lakers, as well as a more punitive luxury tax system that will severely penalize the Lakers unless they cut down their $83 million payroll between now and 2013-14 when the new taxes kick in.
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Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss has continued to privately seethe over Stern's decision, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Buss' anger did not boil over when the crosstown Clippers acquired Paul. But like Bryant, Buss took exception to Stern's characterization of what went on behind the scenes before the trade was vetoed.
Stern told reporters on a conference call Wednesday night that New Orleans Hornets general manager Dell Demps never believed the trade between the Lakers, Houston Rockets and Hornets was finished before Stern stepped in to kill it.
"That's a flat-out lie," said the source with knowledge of Buss' thinking.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters Monday that the team "did the best we can to express our displeasure" to the league.
Despite frustration from the Lakers over how the trade went down, especially since Lamar Odom was traded to the Dallas Mavericks because he requested a trade after being hurt by being included in the Paul deal, Bryant shrugged off the outcome.
"My message to the guys is, look: L.O. [Odom] is gone, there's nothing we can do about it," Bryant said. "So, other guys have to step up and contribute. Ron [Metta World Peace] has to have more responsibilities, [Devin] Ebanks has to have more responsibilities and that's just the way it goes."
Added Bryant: "It's just part of business. Sometimes you get trades done, sometimes you don't. It's as simple as that."
Lakers center Andrew Bynum isn't fretting the failed trade at all. In fact, he thinks the Lakers are better off with it falling through.
"I'm happy we didn't do it," Bynum said. "I don't think you trade two 7-footers for a point guard. Ever."
With the failed Lakers trade in the past, the Clippers' future looks bright having acquired Paul, Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups this offseason to complement the returning talent in Blake Griffin, Mo Williams and DeAndre Jordan.
"It's a great acquisition," said Bryant. "It's tough, Eric Gordon I've always thought extremely high of him and [Chris] Kaman had a year there where he played extremely well, so it's tough to see them go, but Chris is a fantastic player. They made a great addition."
When asked if the Clippers were a playoff team, Bryant said, "They should be."
He also believes they "could be" a contender to come out of the Western Conference.
"Their roster looks extremely impressive," Bryant said. "Chris is a great floor general. I'm sure they'll get after it defensively as well. There will be a lot of energy behind them. I'm sure they'll do more than well."
Bryant welcomed the shift in the professional basketball landscape in L.A.
"It's about damn time," Bryant said. "We had one year there where they were doing something in the playoffs and we weren't [in 2006]. And now it looks like it can be something that's more consistent."
Griffin's first words about Paul's arrival -- "Lob city!" he said gleefully to fellow high-flying teammate Jordan on Wednesday -- have already become a Twitter trending topic and a T-shirt in Los Angeles.
Bryant admitted the "Lob City" Clippers will be exciting.
"I'm definitely going to go watch them," Bryant said. "Come on, man. Blake Griffin has like a 60-inch vertical. Chris is vastly entertaining. For sure, I'll definitely check them out. They're a team with a high motor. They're young and they run up and down the floor and this, that and the other."
But he doesn't think an exciting style of play is necessary to be successful.
"I like jewelry. ... I like winning," Bryant said. "If at this stage of our careers we're the boring team, then we're the boring team. As long as we get results."
Bryant reiterated his stance that the Lakers were good enough to compete for a championship as presently constructed and continued to support the team's front office.
"I don't expect this to be a situation like it was in 2005 when they said, 'You know what? We're just going to cut payroll, we're just going to cut everything and not contend for a championship,'" Bryant said. "I don't expect that to be the case. I expect them to still try to be aggressive and make moves to build a championship team and if that's the case, I'll stand out of their way and let them do what they do."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.