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No Bryant as Lakers Get Started

The agent for the All-Star guard says he is too ill to travel to Hawaii. Team officials say they don't think he is having second thoughts about playing.

October 03, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

HONOLULU — The chartered jet from Los Angeles that was to carry all of the Laker veterans, and all of the Lakers' hopes for retaking an NBA championship, arrived here Thursday afternoon without Kobe Bryant aboard.

After assuring Laker management in recent weeks that he intended to attend camp and play the season despite the weight of a felony sexual assault charge in Colorado, Bryant was "just not feeling well," a club spokesman said. Bryant's agent, Rob Pelinka, telephoned the Lakers on Wednesday to say Bryant was ill and to raise the possibility that the five-time All-Star would miss the early days of camp. Pelinka called General Manager Mitch Kupchak on Thursday to confirm it.

The Lakers do not expect Bryant, who is recovering from off-season shoulder and knee surgeries, for today's workouts at the University of Hawaii, the first full-squad practices of camp. Beyond that, they do not know.

Earlier Thursday, an Eagle County, Colo., judge ruled that Bryant's accuser would not have to appear at a preliminary hearing scheduled for next Thursday and that the hearing remains open to the public, leading to speculation that Bryant's lawyers would waive that hearing. But if the hearing weren't waived, Bryant probably would have to appear, experts said.

It was unknown whether Thursday's rulings had an effect on Bryant's decision to put off his camp arrival. Laker officials offered few details on the condition that apparently has stricken the famously tough Bryant, who has played through many injuries and illnesses.

Team officials said they didn't believe Bryant was rethinking his decision to play the season, or had second thoughts about training camp as a court appearance drew near.

"We have to trust that he's doing the most responsible thing for himself, and ultimately at this point I think Kobe has to think about himself before the team," Coach Phil Jackson said.

Asked whether he was confident Bryant would arrive in Honolulu soon, Jackson said, "I'm not anticipating anything. That's one of the things that we've talked about earlier in this year. We just have to be real fluid, not rigid, or anticipate anything, or get our hopes up, one way or the other. We have plenty of players. We have a good team. We're confident in what we're going to do. We're hoping Kobe will join us. That's as much as I can say."

While stressing that he was "disappointed" Bryant was delayed, Jackson said he did not fear Bryant would lag behind his teammates in their preparation for the season, even though Bryant's knee surgery kept him from playing basketball for at least part of the summer.

"I don't have any worries about that," Jackson said. "I'm perfectly comfortable that Kobe would miss half the training camp, the whole training camp. He knows what we do. He's got a basketball mind. He's very good at what we've done over the course of the last four or five years. This training camp is for conditioning, it's for teamwork and it's for our ballplayers to get together."

Jackson said he telephoned Bryant on Wednesday. He was told that Bryant was resting and would not come to the phone.

"He was not feeling well enough to travel," team publicist John Black said in addressing about 75 media members assembled outside a small campus gym. "If he's feeling well enough, he'll fly [today].... He'll be here when he can fly."

Pelinka did not return a message left for him.

"He's under the weather and we'd like to have him here," Kupchak said, "but that's not going to happen. Hopefully, he's here [today]."

Kupchak added that Pelinka told him Bryant would need an additional "day or two to get ready."

Said Kupchak: "That's good enough for me."

Pressed for details of Bryant's illness, Kupchak said, "He's not feeling well. If it continues, he'll see a doctor."

Among other things, Bryant missed a team meeting Thursday night. In it, Jackson said in the afternoon, he intended to address his players on the sacrifices that would be required of them if they were to play again for a title and on the scrutiny that would come with Bryant's legal issues, already drawing intense attention.

"We're concerned for Kobe's well-being," Jackson said. "He's part of our inside group and that's what we want.... The limited thing that we have to offer now is, come back and join us when you're ready, and we're ready to go on with you, or without you."

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