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Injuries Become a Bigger Concern

October 16, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

Karl Malone and Gary Payton are Lakers now, as reflected by their baggy yellow uniforms and tight green paychecks.

As they are learning, the Laker experience can be quite different from the typical NBA experience.

On Wednesday afternoon in El Segundo, the television in the corner of the trainer's room was tuned to coverage of Kobe Bryant's day in court. A handful of Malone's and Payton's new teammates lingered quietly nearby, staring.

Coach Phil Jackson, who Wednesday added Horace Grant's concussion to Bryant's schedule and Shaquille O'Neal's heel and Rick Fox's foot, doesn't know when Bryant will resume his part of training camp. The Lakers play tonight and Friday night at Staples Center and Sunday in Bakersfield, tonight and Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.

Jackson once had predicted Bryant and O'Neal would play in the coming few days, but it appears he has chosen to stop guessing.

Asked whether O'Neal would be available by Sunday, Jackson said, smiling, "I can't comment on that. I don't know."

But Tuesday night, he was reminded, he'd said ...

"Yeah," he answered, nodding. "I won't re-comment on something I already commented on less than 12 hours ago."

Grant started at center for O'Neal on Tuesday night against the Phoenix Suns, which he presumably would be required to do in future O'Neal absences. He underwent a CT scan Wednesday at Centinela Hospital Medical Center after being slammed in the face with a basketball in San Diego. Grant was within a few feet of Derek Fisher when Fisher tried a cross-court pass, which instead struck Grant's goggles near his left eye. The CT scan was normal.

The point-blank pass and impact left a bloody red mark on Grant's sclera, the white portion of the eye. After the game, Grant laughed about the incident and said he'd experienced no ill effects from it, but headaches and double vision arose on the bus trip home and intensified by Wednesday morning.

Grant, who suffered from episodes of short-term memory loss, including being forbidden by a trainer to practice and then immediately requesting to have his ankles taped for practice, was told he should take another two days without activity. He will be reexamined by team physicians Friday.

"They put me through all of these tests," Grant said. "Passed a few, flunked a few."

Amid the uncertainty, Malone and Payton reported for practice Wednesday, as they had for every game and practice previously.

As they took the floor, Jackson said, "There's no such thing as expectations in this game. You can have good expectations, good hopes, and then there's reality. You just have to be able to adapt to whatever reality is going to bring you. I think our players know they just have to be able to flow with what happens, and not get into a situation where they're expecting something to happen now.

"What you can expect is that Shaq won't play 82 games, Horace Grant won't play 82 games. Karl will probably play 82 games. Payton will probably play 82 games. Those things you can expect because there's a history that goes behind that. That is where expectations come along."

So, as O'Neal took treatment for his heel, as Bryant returned from Eagle, Colo., to more work and rehabilitation, the roles for Payton and Malone became clearer.

Jackson laughed. "They'll be our iron men," he said.

Though Malone has said he was somewhat disappointed in his early weeks as a Laker, Payton insisted he was unaffected.

"I'm still excited," he said. "That doesn't change. Ain't nothing changed. There's no distractions for me. I mean, I'll be glad when everything gets over with and everybody gets here. It'll be better that way. But there's no distractions.

"I'm running through everything. I'm not worried about it. Every time Kobe's at practice, I'm with him. Shaq, you know, he's trying to settle where he can get healthy. I don't want him to be in the season, talking about he's got to take three or four games off. I'd rather for him to sit out all this preseason. Once he comes out on the 28th, that'll be fine with me."

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