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LAKER REPORT

Jackson Has 'No Feel' on Bryant's Situation

October 22, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

Kobe Bryant was back on the basketball court Tuesday afternoon, six days from the start of his eighth NBA season, so far a bit closer to the floor, so far not as quick and not as dynamic.

A day after a judge ordered him to stand trial for felony sexual assault, Bryant, who over three weeks of training camp has made a somber play for normality, concluded practice Tuesday in a heavy sweat, disappeared into the trainer's room and did not return.

He told Laker publicist John Black that he "wanted a day off," and so he did not address the media, which assembles every day to dab at the boundaries of the charges against him and to understand what effect they will have on his game and the Laker season.

There have been few ready answers.

Of the four players many believed would allow the Lakers to take their fourth NBA championship in five years, only Karl Malone and Gary Payton have not missed significant practice time. Shaquille O'Neal is recovering from a heel injury. Since the start of camp, Bryant has participated in nearly as many court hearings (two) as he has practices (three), and only Monday took up with the other three in a full-on, five-on-five scrimmage.

In the few minutes reporters were allowed to view practice, Bryant made a jump shot, missed an alley-oop lob from Payton and ran with some care. A drive into the right side of the lane that last season might have ended in a tomahawk dunk, instead ended with an underhanded flip to Malone for a short jumper.

For the moment, he is picking his way around his four floor-mates, rather than the four of them playing around him. He is finding his footing, both on the floor and off, playing basketball and then awaiting news from his lawyers and then playing basketball.

A trial date has not been established. Bryant is scheduled to appear in a Colorado court Nov. 10, and that is all the Lakers know today, probably all they'll know for a while.

"I really can't comment on that," Coach Phil Jackson said. "I haven't read the total report yet that's been issued. I've just read what the media had to say about it [Monday] afternoon when it came out. So, I really can't comment on that. I just have to say, you know, we want this thing to go as quickly as possible and disappear into thin air. That's what we really want it to do, and have a season that's unfettered."

Bryant, he said, has not suggested when a trial might occur, or when his lawyers might prefer it to be scheduled.

"We have no feel at all," Jackson said. "We just know that Nov. 10 is the next date that's sitting there in front of us."

Apparently, Tuesday passed at the Lakers' El Segundo practice facility with little or no mention of Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett's decision that Bryant's case would go to district court, particularly from Bryant.

"I thought it was pretty anticlimactic in that it didn't seem to be on the minds of everyone, at least as much as I thought it would be," Rick Fox said. "That's including Kobe. Kobe was going through practice as if it was just another day. He's said it before, that he's done what he can do and now he has to let it play out. As far as going to trial, I don't think it was anything anyone didn't expect."

Horace Grant played on Bryant's yellow scrimmage team Tuesday and said afterward he hadn't noticed a change in Bryant's demeanor.

"He seemed to come out with the same mind-set, the same focus," Grant said. "To be honest, this is his sanctuary. He's treating it as such. That's the way it should be.

"We don't talk about this stuff. When he's here, it's just basketball. If he wants to talk about it, he'll come to us. Until then, we're supporting him."

Fox said "the stress level will decrease as a group" when a trial date is set, particularly if the date falls after the season.

"That'd be nice," he said. "I think it'll rear up here and there, from city to city. But I think it's going to take a back seat for us during the season."

Bryant said Monday he expected to play in the Lakers' exhibition game against the Clippers at the Arrowhead Pond on Thursday night. He said his legs were growing stronger and that his conditioning was coming, perhaps to the point where he could be effective in the team's season opener, Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks.

In terms of Bryant's progress, Jackson said, "He's gone quick. He's moving really quick. ... He's moving well enough where I think he'd be comfortable playing eight minutes on a basketball court right now, in a rotation on Thursday night if he's able to do it."

*

Fox will return to New York today to be examined by Dr. Jonathan Deland, who performed the May 12 surgery that repaired a tendon in Fox's left foot. Fox, who has progressed to partial weight-bearing running, hopes to be cleared for more rigorous rehabilitation. He is not expected to return until December or January. ... Grant, out six days because of a concussion, was on the floor for a full practice Tuesday. Said Jackson, establishing the bare minimum: "He's not wobbling around into walls." ... Magic Johnson attended part of Tuesday's practice.

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