NEW ORLEANS -- Ready, willing, or not -- h-e-r-e's Kobe!
Denying a Lakers request, NBA officials insisted Friday that Kobe Bryant remain in the starting lineup for Sunday's All-Star game, which Bryant said he would do.
According to NBA policy, a selectee who plays in his team's last game -- as Bryant did, scoring 29 points in Wednesday's win in Minnesota -- has to play in the All-Star game or sit out his next game.
Not that this case was like any other that had come up.
Only after the Lakers returned from their East Coast trip Thursday was Bryant's injury, thought to be a dislocated right pinkie finger, re-diagnosed as a torn ligament.
With hand specialist, Steven Shin, and management right up to owner Jerry Buss recommending that he undergo surgery, which would have meant sitting out at least six weeks, Bryant made the decision to keep playing.
The leading vote-getter in the West, Bryant attended Friday's media session here with his right hand in a brace and the last two fingers splinted.
He said he knew about the league's policy -- "It's a crappy rule" -- but would play if he had to.
"It doesn't seem to me to make sense," said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak. "I understand it's the biggest showcase of the year for the NBA and that's all of us.
"But from a general manager's point of view, looking out for the interests of our club, to me it doesn't make sense.
"The doctor examining [Bryant] said, 'If you're not going to have surgery, give it time to heal.'
"Five or six days of healing are certainly better than two or three."
Not that Bryant, who was allowed to withdraw from the three-point contest, is expected to be in harm's way for long.
The West coach is the New Orleans Hornets' Byron Scott, a former Laker, once Bryant's teammate and mentor, who said he'd play Kobe as long as Kobe wants to play.
"The last thing I want to do is make the injury worse," Scott said. "I don't want to put him in any jeopardy.
"If he says, 'Give me a minute out there and take me out,' that's what I'm going to do."
Assuming Bryant sustains no further damage in his cameo appearance Sunday, Friday was more interesting for the things he said about his injury, Andrew Bynum's rehabilitation and Buss.
* He doesn't think he's taking an undue risk to continue playing.
Or, as Bryant, still bulletproof, at least in his mind, put it:
"What more can I do? The ligaments are completely torn, anyway. . . .
"Maybe at the end of my career, if things get worse, I'll be like the cool grandfather that can stretch his pinkie to all the way over here."
* He appreciated Buss' concern, the first suggestion of warmth Bryant had shown toward the owner since last fall.
* He just saw Bynum, whom he expects to return "soon."
Bryant, who seemed detached for months after trying to engineer a trade to Chicago, has been giving off signs that he's back since Bynum was hurt Jan. 8.
This was the latest and the warmest reference to Buss, personally, since last fall when Bryant took the owner's comments about trading him as a betrayal of their agreement to keep their dealings private.
However, Bryant was impressed when Buss sent word through Kupchak that he should have the surgery for the sake of his career and his life.
"That was kind of their preference, for me to go ahead and have the procedure, which means a lot to me," Bryant said.
"It means they're not just concerned about winning games. They're concerned about you as a person post-career."
Bynum's rehabilitation has proceeded under a news blackout, prompting rumors that he wouldn't be back this season.
However, Bryant said that from what he saw, Bynum is doing fine.
"I saw him [Thursday]," Bryant said. "We were in getting treatment. He looks great. . . .
"The swelling in his knee looks down. He was doing some active moments already. It doesn't look like he's ready to start running full blast yet but he's young so he'll be back soon."
So, even if the Lakers will cross their fingers and hold their breath for a while -- through June, they hope -- things have been worse. Recently.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Coverage of the Shooting Stars, Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout and Slam Dunk competitions begins at 5:30 p.m. on TNT.
A look at the shootout and dunk competitions:
GERALD GREEN, MINNESOTA
No. 15, SF, 6-8, 200, 3rd year
Dunk contest: 2007 champion
DWIGHT HOWARD, ORLANDO
No. 12, C, 6-11, 265, 4th year
Dunk contest: Eliminated in 1st round, 2007
RUDY GAY, MEMPHIS
No. 22, SF, 6-9, 220, 2nd year
Dunk contest: First time participating
JAMARIO MOON, TORONTO
No. 33, SF, 6-8, 205, Rookie
Dunk contest: First time participating
*--* Player Team Made Att. Pct. Daniel Gibson Cleveland 105 225 467 Richard Hamilton Detroit 43 92 467 Jason Kapono Toronto 50 98 510 Steve Nash Phoenix 101 216 468 Dirk Nowitzki Dallas 41 139 295 Peja Stojakovic New Orleans 122 264 462 *--*
*--* Player Team Made Att. Pct. Daniel Gibson Cleveland 278 625 450 Richard Hamilton Detroit 312 911 342 Jason Kapono Toronto 280 599 467 Steve Nash Phoenix 1147 2737 429 Dirk Nowitzki Dallas 981 2605 377 Peja Stojakovic New Orleans 1317 3260 404 *--*