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LAKER REPORT

Bryant Better but Not Ready for a Game Yet

October 19, 2003|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

Kobe Bryant practiced Saturday, an event that once would have been too mundane to record, but in this preseason, in which he hasn't played yet while commuting to hearings in his sexual assault case in Colorado, it counts as a landmark.

It wasn't even a full practice, with players over 30 -- Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Horace Grant, Bryon Russell and Shaquille O'Neal -- excused.

Nevertheless, Bryant scrimmaged five-on-five, full-court for the first time. He won't play in tonight's exhibition in Bakersfield against the Cleveland Cavaliers but said he expects to return for the last two, Thursday against the Clippers at the Arrowhead Pond and Friday in Las Vegas against Sacramento.

"Normally I'm over here riding a bike for 45 minutes, doing my weights, so it felt normal to be back out there and scrimmaging and going through all the drills with the players," Bryant said.

"I feel great. I enjoy competition. More so than anything, I enjoy pushing some of the younger players here, motivating them and challenging them, bringing the best out of them, pushing their buttons kind of."

Bryant said his condition is OK, but his explosiveness isn't there. Accordingly, on one breakaway, he simply laid the ball in.

This is a new experience for the Lakers along with all the others, seeing Bryant, a conditioning zealot, out of shape, with his rehabilitation ongoing after arthroscopic knee surgery four months ago. Coach Phil Jackson, who has to integrate Malone and Payton in the triangle offense, had been hoping for a Bryant return tonight, but Bryant suggested he's pointing to the last two.

If rejoining his teammates on the floor suggested Bryant's old life, however, as he noted, the reality is something else.

"Every day is a bad day," he said. "You just kind of take the good with it.

"We'll get through this situation. Every storm has to end. The sunshine is a rainbow after every storm, so you just go along with it."

*

Jackson said he doesn't know why O'Neal is upset with him, a problem that has arisen annually in recent seasons, although never so early and in the absence of any obvious issues.

O'Neal signaled his distress before Friday's exhibition game, noting that where he used to have "two Phils in my life, I only got one now," presumably referring to his stepfather, Phillip Harrison.

"I have no idea what this is all about," Jackson said. "The reporters told me about it last night. He said he only has one Phil in his life now. I thought it was me, but that's how selfish I am about it."

In recent preseasons, O'Neal has come in heavy, but this fall he showed up at a relatively svelte 340 pounds. Nevertheless, Jackson has been suggesting that they need a rededicated O'Neal on the floor, noting more than once that Tim Duncan has won the last two most-valuable-player awards.

"All I've said is that Shaq has got to be upset with the fact that Tim Duncan has been the MVP two years in a row," Jackson said. "His response is just, 'Give me the ball as much as Tim gets the ball.' I tell him that's not really the answer.

"The answer is about playing in a way in which it's a full season, all the games, every night, and all those kind of things that Duncan does to endear himself to the reporters and all the people in the NBA and media that vote him MVP.... I think for a guy to endear himself to the writers and everything else he's got to show night in and night out, rebound, assists, scoring, all those things are important, which is what Duncan has done the past two years.

"But without a doubt, I say Shaq is the most valuable player in the league and has shown it because of simply the amount of effort it takes for teams to defend him, by the amount of rules they've changed simply by his presence in the game. ...

"He's going to have to do a lot more for us this year for us to win. Last year we had defensive power forwards [Samaki Walker, Robert Horry] around him and [before that] younger players like A.C. Green and Horace Grant, so he just has a real load to take.

"He knows it. He knows he's got to be in really good shape and physical condition, and that's what he's doing."

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