Trade unsettling for Kobe Bryant
A day after the Lakers shipped Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for a pair of reserve guards in Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks -- saving them $4 million in salary and luxury-tax implications in the process -- Bryant took to social media and weighed in with a tweet that, according to a source with knowledge of his thinking, was meant to show support and love to Blake.
In the nearly four seasons that Bryant and Blake were teammates after the point guard came to L.A. as a free agent in the summer of 2010, Bryant often lauded Blake for his tough-nosed approach to the game, even bestowing him with the nickname "Vino Bianco," a remix of his own self-appointed monikers of "Vino" and the "Black Mamba."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak downplayed the salary-cap incentive to do the deal Thursday, saying "with this organization, that kind of relief is not really a big number." Rather, he said it gave L.A. the chance to evaluate young talent that could be a part of the team moving forward.
"It really got to the point where we needed to free up some time in the backcourt to look at Jordan [Farmar] and give Kendall [Marshall] the time that he's earned and let's review and evaluate where we are with those two players," Kupchak said. "And the other part of it is, we got back two young players that are developing."
After spending the last 18 seasons together with the Lakers, it's nothing new for Kupchak to hear Bryant voice his opinion.
Bryant famously ripped team management for leaving Pau Gasol twisting in the wind when trade rumors swirled in February 2012, causing Kupchak to release a statement saying that pursuing trades is part of his responsibility as a GM.
Kupchak expects to hear more input from Bryant this summer, when the team will have anywhere from $22 million to $28 million to spend in free agency.
"I'm sure he'll tell me the players that he'd like to have, and if it's in line with what we would like to have, then I think there will be some influence," Kupchak said. "But if we're on opposite ends, then there probably won't be much influence."
The question remains how much influence, if any, Bryant will have on the court for the remainder of the 2013-14 season for the 18-36 Lakers.
Bryant, sidelined since Dec. 17 with a fracture in his left knee, has not been re-evaluated after having his timeline for a return pushed back in late January because of pain and swelling in the knee. A Lakers team spokesman said it was possible Bryant would be examined by Dr. Steve Lombardo before Friday's game against the Boston Celtics, but Bryant's status remains undetermined.
Kupchak said the team would not pressure the 35-year-old Bryant to return with just 28 games remaining in the season and L.A. 13½ games out of a playoff spot entering Thursday.
"We're not going to push him to get back," Kupchak said. "I don't see why you would. We've made a commitment to him for two more years, and I just don't know why we'd do that [push him to come back]. But if he feels he's ready and he's in shape and he gets the doctor's approval, then there's no reason why he couldn't do that."
Kupchak said he was "hopeful" that Bryant could play before the season ended to show potential free agents what he is still capable of doing. But Kupchak also believes the five-time NBA champion already showed enough in his six games back in December -- he averaged 13.8 points, 6.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds in that span -- that he still can be a close approximation of the player he was.
"There's really no reason why anyone should speculate as to whether or not Kobe can get back next year at a high level," Kupchak said. "I think the bigger challenge is his age. But he's shown over the years that he can adjust his game to his age."
The GM said Bryant is a major reason why he's confident the Lakers will be improved next season.
"Next year we're going to have Kobe, who is healthy," Kupchak said. "And we will have a good draft choice and we'll have dollars to spend on free agents. So, it depends on who we can get in this summer. I don't think that we'll use our cap money to patch together a team for next year. We're looking to bring something to Los Angeles. It may take more than one year to build, I don't know. But because we have a lot of money this summer, doesn't mean we'll spend it all.
"We'll spend it wisely and if we can't, then we'll do the best we can this summer and then we'll look maybe to the next summer. We don't know how that's going to play out right now. We don't know who is going to be free agents. We don't know who is going to opt in and who is going to opt out, so there's a lot of unknown. But all you can do is be in position, and we feel we are positioned well for our opportunity."
Information from ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne was used in this report.