Phil Jackson played Kobe Bryant to exhaustion on Saturday night, just as Bryant had hoped, bringing the Lakers into their final week of preparation for the regular season with a heavy-legged swingman to go with their absentee center.
Bryant will recover, but the Lakers will open without Shaquille O'Neal, and perhaps with free agent Soumaila Samake as their starting center against the San Antonio Spurs on Oct. 29.
Jackson hasn't carried a backup center such as Samake for the last two seasons, primarily because he hasn't had the option.
This year, General Manager Mitch Kupchak brought in Samake for the summer league team, signed him again to a make-good contract before training camp and, now, with David Robinson, Arvydas Sabonis and possibly Michael Olowokandi coming in the first week alone, everyone's glad he did.
Does this mean Samake will play big minutes early?
"I didn't say big minutes," Jackson said.
But, Samake -- and not Samaki Walker, whom Jackson likes against smaller centers -- could start in the middle.
"Maybe. Maybe," Jackson said. "We'll see. This egg isn't cooked. We've still got three games.... I like his attitude, the way he plays, his demeanor out there.... I don't know if I'd start him opening night. Who do we play opening night?"
"San Antonio? I'd probably start him opening night," he said. "And, like I've said, we've got a good chance of being 0-7, the way we're playing."
If so, that would mean losses to San Antonio, to Portland, to the Clippers, another to Portland, and then to Cleveland, Boston and Washington to launch their effort for a fourth consecutive championship. Perhaps after that, by a Nov. 12 game against Atlanta, they'd have O'Neal back.
"The first seven games or the last seven, whenever Shaq's not there, it's going to be flat-out tough," Derek Fisher said. "Emotionally, we have to register that we need to measure ourselves by our level of execution, by our intensity and our competitiveness without him."
Magic Johnson has told friends he does not intend to take Howard Schultz's offer to buy into the Seattle SuperSonics, which would have forced him to sell his stake in the Lakers.
These are fluid negotiations, however, and there is no denying Johnson's intention to run a team, much as Jerry West has taken control of the Memphis Grizzlies. Though the situation in Seattle might not seem a wise business move now, Johnson is almost certain to continue monitoring management and ownership opportunities in the NBA.
The Lakers did not practice Sunday. They'll be back in El Segundo today, then in San Diego on Tuesday night, when they'll play an exhibition game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.