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LAKER REPORT

At Least Kupchak Sounds Positive

October 28, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

So, does he go?

Not long ago, according to witnesses, one of Kobe Bryant's representatives was overheard telling Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy, "Save that cap space."

It would allow Bryant to escape Shaquille O'Neal and remain in Los Angeles. It would allow Bryant freedom on offense. It would allow the Clippers, who could be $8-$10 million under the salary cap next season, their very own superstar.

The Clippers wouldn't be alone. Assured that Bryant will opt out of his contract with designs on leaving the Lakers, and assuming Bryant was not convicted on the felony sexual assault charge, general managers league-wide would happily bail salaries for a shot at him.

Meanwhile, Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Monday that despite the very public falling out between Bryant and O'Neal, he received not a single telephone call from another general manager seeking to acquire one of them.

"They know better," Kupchak said.

While it seems Bryant is looking for people to tell he won't be back with the Lakers next season, Kupchak apparently isn't one of them.

"Kobe has never expressed a desire to leave Los Angeles to me," he said.

Asked if he believed Bryant would be a Laker next season, Kupchak responded, "You're asking me to speculate about a year from now? I expect him to be here. This is where he belongs to play. But, as you know, he's got an out in his contract next summer and he could choose to do whatever he wants to do. We'll do everything we can to keep him and the rest of our players here. It's our hope he's here and plays many, many years."

Coach Phil Jackson, who has had his philosophical differences with Bryant, said he would not offer an opinion on the possibility of Bryant's departure.

"I'm not even going to comment on that," he said. "I expect him to play this season and I expect us to win the championship and that's what I'm heading for."

*

Through it all, Jackson must field a team around O'Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone.

ESPN's report Monday that Bryant probably would miss the game surprised everyone in the organization.

Also, small forward Devean George, who sprained his left ankle Thursday, is questionable.

If neither is available, Derek Fisher would start in the backcourt beside Payton and Bryon Russell or Luke Walton would play small forward. If George couldn't play and Bryant could, which seems the most likely scenario, Jackson probably would keep Bryant at shooting guard and choose a small forward, likely Russell.

George, according to Jackson, "Stumbled in practice [Monday] and fell because of his ankle. I want to be sure about that."

*

Jackson said his left foot, stricken with gout, was, "mending."

TONIGHT

vs. DALLAS

TV -- 7:30, TNT.

Radio -- KLAC (570), KWKW (1330).

Site -- Staples Center.

Records (2002-03) -- Lakers 50-32, Mavericks 60-22.

Record vs. Mavericks (2002-03) -- 3-1.

Update -- The Lakers have won 25 consecutive home games against the Mavericks, dating to Dec. 12, 1990. Most memorably, the Lakers rallied from deficits of 30 points in the third quarter and 27 in the fourth to beat the Mavericks, 105-103, last Dec. 6 at Staples Center. Dallas is expected to start Danny Fortson at center, Dirk Nowitzki at power forward and Antoine Walker at small forward against the Lakers, meaning Antawn Jamison, who averaged 22.2 points and 7.0 rebounds for Golden State last season, will come off the bench.

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