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Everyone's wondering about Lakers' direction, including Kobe Bryant

BILL PLASCHKE

After their failed attempt to get Chris Paul and their trade of Lamar Odom, the Lakers are scrambling. "I'm telling you, I don't know," Bryant says when asked what the organization is doing.

December 15, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • Lakers guard Kobe Bryant isn't sure what lies ahead for the Lakers as they prepare for the 2011-12 season.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant isn't sure what lies ahead for the Lakers… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

The Lakers train only five miles from the Clippers, close enough to hear the jeers, the catcalls, the disappointment.

Until Thursday afternoon, when they were also close enough to feel the celebrating, and close enough to be crushed by it.

The Hallway Rivalry has taken a series of unimaginable turns that have left the Lakers in a corner so dark, even Kobe Bryant can't see.

"I'm not sure what the hell is the direction, to be honest with you," he said.

Five miles north, after years of lingering in the Lakers' shadow, the Clippers were taking their first steps into what could be a prolonged and powerful stay in the Los Angeles spotlight.

Here at Lakers camp, Bryant was lost.

''I don't know, dude," he said when asked about his team's future. "I'm telling you, I don't know. I'm not going to BS you. I don't know."

Five miles north, the Clippers were preparing to hold a news conference trumpeting the arrival of star guard Chris Paul.

Here at Lakers camp, they were still grumbling over NBA Commissioner David Stern's refusal to approve their initial trade for Paul, a decision which has sent one of basketball's most careful and composed organizations into a dizzying tailspin.

"I've never quite seen something like this unfold," said Bryant. "It's become somewhat of a mess."

Five miles north, the Clippers were huddling with a new lineup that will include one of basketball's greatest passers, two of its greatest dunkers, and a roster full of speed and daring.

Here at Lakers camp, I tell Bryant many fans now feel the Clippers are more exciting than the Lakers, and he shrugs.

''I agree," he said.

''You're being sarcastic," I said.

''No, I agree," he said. "I definitely would watch them."

Five miles north, the Clippers can't wait for the start of a season in which they could actually make the playoffs and some late-spring noise.

Here at Lakers camp, they are waiting for the other sneaker to drop.

In trading Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for nothing but a probable bad draft pick and a trade exception, surely the Lakers have a master plan to improve themselves in his absence, don't they?

"You would think," Bryant said.

Even though they failed to get Paul, they are going to keep trying to get better instead of simply using the Odom trade as the first piece of a rebuilding effort, right?

"I've resolved not to get too focused on whether the other shoe is going to drop," said Derek Fisher. "But we didn't just arbitrarily get rid of a player of Lamar's caliber … the assumption is, somebody else is coming in."

Everyone has assumed that person is Orlando's Dwight Howard. But with the Magic having halted trade talks for now, on Thursday he never seemed further away. He still may show up before the end of the season, or maybe even this summer when he becomes a free agent.

But if he doesn't show up — or until he does — this is clearly a team in a rebuilding mode. Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers' general manager, isn't talking, but his roster speaks for itself. This reality is now washing over some players who wandered off the gym floor Thursday with disoriented stares.

On a day when the Clippers introduced promise, the Lakers introduced only more change and confusion.

Metta World Peace was talking about becoming a top scorer again, just before Coach Mike Brown announced that he would be coming off the bench. I spotted this strange guy with a slight build running around the court, thought he was some sort of intruder, and was informed he will be the Lakers' opening night starting center, somebody named Josh McRoberts?

In one corner, Andrew Bynum was talking smack about the Clippers, yet doing so with a huge brace on his knee and uncertainty in his ability to stay on the court.

"We have 16 chips, I don't think they have one," he said. "Obviously I don't think they're better than us or will beat us just because they made a move. That's funny."

In another corner, Bryant admitted the team might be very un-Lakers-like under the defensive grip of new Coach Mike Brown.

"At this stage of our careers, if we're the boring team, we're the boring team, as long as we get results," he said.

By the time Fisher was the last one off the court after shooting countless jump shots, the rivers of sweat pouring off his arms seemed fitting for the stress felt by Lakers followers everywhere.

How much chance does this team have if the players are as lost as the fans?

"We're starting over, essentially," said Fisher. "We have to work with that mentality."

Starting over? Just two seasons after winning consecutive championships? Will it be this way the entire year? And how long will Bryant put up with it?

So far, Bryant is not complaining, saying this is not like the situation in the spring of 2007, when he asked to be traded.

"Nah, the one time I got really upset is, I came to the realization that they were just cutting costs, just having me run around, score 40 points a night and generate revenue and not pay anybody," Bryant said. "I don't believe that's the case now. They tried to make moves, as you can see. They tried to get Chris. And they're talking about trying to get Dwight. So I'll just stay out of their way and let them do it."

Five miles north, the Clippers have already done it.

Here at Lakers camp, they can only enviously hope.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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