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Lakers' exit meetings have little direction

Kobe Bryant changes his format and will have a longer session with Mitch Kupchak and Mike Brown.

May 22, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, bottom, steals the ball from Lakers guard Kobe Bryant during Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals on Friday. Bryant did not meet with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Mike Brown on Tuesday.
Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, bottom, steals the ball from… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Ramon Sessions, Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks are all potential free agents in July, with the Lakers showing varying degrees of interest in them.

Tuesday was the first day of the rest of the Lakers' off-season.

Already, there were very few answers.

Six players went through annual exit meetings with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Mike Brown, most of them saying the same thing afterward to reporters: See you in training camp ... maybe?

Ramon Sessions and Metta World Peace were the headliners Tuesday, with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum scheduled to appear Wednesday at the Lakers' training facility for individual 30-minute sessions.

Kobe Bryant, however, was not expected in El Segundo to clean out his locker and sit down with Kupchak and Brown, eschewing the traditional format but planning to do it later this week over lunch at an undisclosed location.

Bryant's absence was partly because he wanted a little more time to decompress from the Lakers' playoff ouster, according to a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly. He also wanted more time with Kupchak and a meeting away from the training facility would offer more than the typical half-hour exit interview session.

Bryant's deviation from the standard was not believed to be acrimonious. It certainly wasn't the same as Shaquille O'Neal deliberately blowing off exit meetings in 2004, when his tenure with the Lakers was up in the air. O'Neal was traded to Miami a month later.

Bryant spoke after the Lakers' season-ending loss Monday to Oklahoma City, saying he wouldn't be "fading into the shadows. ... I'm not going anywhere. ... We're not going anywhere."

Also, though, he added he was unsure of the Lakers' future, calling it a "loaded question."

"This is kind of unfamiliar territory," he said after the Lakers' 106-90 loss bumped them from the Western Conference semifinals for a second consecutive season. "It's pretty odd for me. I'm not the most patient of people."

Meanwhile, Sessions, Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks are all potential free agents in July, with the Lakers showing varying degrees of interest in them.

Sessions is expected to decline a $4.55-player option next season and become a free agent, but he said it was "100% clear" Kupchak and Brown wanted him back.

"I definitely hope to be here. Hopefully everything works out. ... We'll just see what happens," Sessions said.

He has until June 20 to inform the Lakers of his decision.

The five-year NBA veteran wasn't great in his first taste of the playoffs, appearing tentative and often getting replaced late in games by Steve Blake.

"It's an experience that I'll never forget," Sessions said.

Kupchak and Brown told him in his exit meeting to improve his outside shot during the off-season. Sessions averaged 9.7 points in the playoffs and shot only 37.7%, including a poor four-for-25 from three-point range (16%).

Ebanks, a restricted free agent who was on the books for $789,000 this season, said he definitely wanted to continue his career with the Lakers and sensed it was mutual. "They seem pretty interested in me," he said.

Hill, an unrestricted free agent with a limited market, was unsure of his future after making $2.9 million this season. He had a few solid games early in the first round against Denver but faded from there.

"Just got to keep working," he said.

There were even questions for World Peace about the possibility of being waived via the amnesty clause, an unlikely event after he played better toward the end of the season.

"I'm very confident, maybe cocky arrogant, the way I felt ending the season," said World Peace, who has two years and $15 million left on his contract. "I feel like I can compete with anybody. Even when Kobe was out, I showed what type of player I was."

World Peace averaged 16.3 points in the seven regular-season games Bryant missed because of a sore left shin.

Teams have been allowed to waive one player and not pay luxury taxes on his salary. They would still owe him whatever remained on his contract.

World Peace had another, uh, unique observation, saying the Lakers "definitely underachieved" this season.

"We were the best team in the NBA and lost in five," he said. "The best team in the NBA should be up 3-2 and playing [Wednesday]. …We had them beat. Stunned. It's stunning."

Oklahoma City, which begins the West finals Sunday against San Antonio, would probably disagree.

Regardless, it will surely be a busy Lakers off-season.

Perhaps Hill said it best: "I hate moving."

Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.

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