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Bryant won't play GM

Lakers star says that he is 'comfortable' with the roster and that younger players have a great opportunity to take the next step.

June 20, 2008|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

The Lakers had just lost by an unfathomable 39 points, forcing Kobe Bryant to retreat to the visitors' locker room deep inside a bustling, frenetic Boston arena.

He sat at his stall, head down, soaking in the second-worst loss in NBA Finals history until hearing that reporters were about to be allowed into the room. He entered the bathroom, off-limits to the media, and sat down against a wall, still wearing his Lakers uniform, saddened, if not embarrassed by what had happened.

Two days later, he emerged for his first in-depth public comments Thursday after a 30-minute exit meeting with Coach Phil Jackson and General Manager Mitch Kupchak at the Lakers' training facility.

On the other side of the country, the Celtics celebrated amid a sea of green, taking part in a parade that lined the streets of downtown Boston.

On a quiet day in El Segundo, Bryant seemed upbeat, even cracking a few jokes, seemingly more reassured now by the Lakers' future than by what the team failed to accomplish a few days ago.

"I'm comfortable with what we have," he said. "Whatever Mitch decides to do, he decides to do. It's more of a relaxing summer for me because I know we have an opportunity to win. It's exciting.

"We know we got close and came up a little bit short. I'm excited about the opportunity to get back next year if we're fortunate enough and have a different result."

It certainly was a different demeanor from last season's exit meeting, after which Bryant came down the stairs and unloaded on reporters after his ill-tempered session with Kupchak and Jackson.

"That's one of the things when I re-signed here, they promised they would build a contender and build a contender now," Bryant said 13 months ago. "I don't want to have to wait any more than I already have. . . . The important thing to me is winning now."

The wait for championship-contender status was obviously a relatively short one.

The Lakers began this season with a 9-8 record, but then center Andrew Bynum began playing more like an All-Star than a 20-year-old. After he went down with a knee injury, Pau Gasol was acquired, lifting Lamar Odom's game as the Lakers went on a tear to finish the regular season before winning the Western Conference in only 15 playoff games.

They somehow fumbled a 24-point lead at home in Game 4 and were drubbed by Boston in Game 6 of the Finals, but Bryant said he expected the Lakers to be contenders again next season, in his own way.

"It's going to be tough, but I'm just happy to know that we're invited to the party," he said. "When you're invited, you dance with a hot chick. You can pull a beautiful one or you can pull one that's not as good looking. You can either go in the first round and get knocked out or you can go to the championship."

He pointed to the relative youth of the Lakers, mentioning that he and Derek Fisher were the obvious exceptions.

He hoped lessons were learned in the Finals by the Lakers' younger players.

"We have a team here that's very good," Bryant said, repeating the "very good" part for emphasis. "Boston played better, they played more physical than we were. But at the same time, you look around at our roster, they're young kids.

"We managed to do something that I don't think anybody expected us to do. It's a great learning opportunity for them at a young age to come back next year, knowing what to expect, knowing how to perform and what the goal is in mind. We'll be fine."

Bryant will join Team USA next week in Las Vegas for a mini-camp. After the Olympics, he will have surgery on a torn ligament in his right pinkie, probably in early September. He might miss the start of training camp in early October, though Jackson has said that wouldn't matter.

Bryant had one last thing to say before ducking out the door and into a black SUV -- he would not be giving Kupchak any off-season advice on personnel.

"You're all trying to see if I'm going to do Mitch's job for him this summer," Bryant said, smiling. "I'm not. I leave it up to him. He's done a great job of building this team."

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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