Lakers forward Metta World Peace plays defense on Chicago guard Derrick… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers aren't officially back together, but a familiar face stopped by their training facility Monday.
Kobe Bryant briefly chatted with a few Lakers employees and longtime trainer Gary Vitti before leaving, another sign of the thaw between NBA players and owners as the lockout moved closer to extinction.
Monday marked a busy day for the Lakers even though the collective bargaining agreement wasn't expected to be ratified until Thursday by a majority vote of 450-plus players and 30 owners.
The Lakers found out they'd play three games over three days to start the season, a dreadfully quick beginning for a team without Andrew Bynum because of a five-game suspension. They moved closer to a contract with forward Jason Kapono, part of their continued search for a shooter despite limited free-agent funds. And they heard they couldn't win a championship with their current roster, according to Magic Johnson in a TV interview.
"The Lakers are not the best team in the West," Johnson said on an ESPN round-table segment. "Dallas first, Oklahoma City second."
Bryant wasn't "going to get more rings with this current roster," Johnson said, adding that an upgrade at point guard was needed, Lamar Odom should stop doing reality TV shows and Metta World Peace should just generally settle down.
Welcome back, everybody.
The Lakers made a due-diligence call to the New Orleans Hornets to probe All-Star guard Chris Paul's availability in a trade, but nothing was achieved. "Not even close," said a person with knowledge of the situation who wasn't authorized to speak publicly about it.
The Lakers have not contacted Orlando about a possible trade for center Dwight Howard, who, like Paul, could become a free agent after this season.
NBA teams can't sign free agents until Friday, but the Lakers met with Kapono and were close to a deal for one or two years and about $1.3 million annually.
The Lakers would sign Kapono for a minimum veteran's salary and wouldn't have to dip into their main free-agent tool -- a three-year, $9.4-million contract known as the mini mid-level exception.
Kapono, who turns 31 in February, has career averages of 6.9 points and 43.7% from three-point range but averaged a career-low 0.7 points and 4.6 minutes last season with Philadelphia.
The Lakers made a few runs at Kapono over the years and were hoping he would be cut by the 76ers late last season, in time to sign with the Lakers for the playoffs.
There were other intriguing happenings Monday, including the revelation that the Lakers wouldn't wait long for a dreaded back-to-back-to-back situation.
They play on Dec. 25 at home against Chicago, Dec. 26 at Sacramento and Dec. 27 at home against Utah.
The NBA won't release the schedule until Tuesday, but details were obtained by The Times, including the Lakers' frantic start.
NBA teams haven't played three games in three days since the last lockout-shortened season in 1999, but every team will have at least one such sequence in the upcoming 66-game season. Some teams will have two or three sets of terrible threes.
The Lakers have no other back-to-back-to-backs, though the schedule is not finalized.
Adding to the Lakers' early challenge is Bynum's absence because of a suspension for body-slamming Dallas guard Jose Barea in last season's playoffs.
The Lakers will not visit every NBA city because they play only 18 games against Eastern Conference teams this season. They will not play at Chicago, New Jersey, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Atlanta and one other East city.
The Lakers travel to Boston, Miami and Orlando but don't play the Magic at Staples Center. They face every West team three or four times.
Times staff writer Broderick Turner and correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.