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Can Kobe Bryant settle for being second-best?

Lakers' star isn't rated the NBA's top shooting guard for the first time by general managers. It could motivate him even more.

October 22, 2013|By Ben Bolch

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Kobe Bryant didn't join his teammates on the bench Tuesday night, preferring the sanctity of the Lakers' locker room to courtside at Staples Center.

It was impossible to tell if he was stewing after NBA general managers knocked him down a notch in their assessment of the league's top shooting guards, but it's not out of the question given his recent reaction to other perceived slights.

Bryant changed his Twitter avatar to "1225," presumably in response to ESPN ranking the Lakers as the 12th-best team in the Western Conference and Bryant as the 25th-best player in the NBA.

What's another jab, besides extra inspiration?

"I like it because Kobe always finds ways to motivate himself and to keep those things in mind," Lakers center Pau Gasol said after the Lakers' 108-94 exhibition victory over the Utah Jazz, "so it kind of pushes him to push himself harder and be better."

Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said he figured the 56.7% of general managers who voted Houston's James Harden as the best shooting guard in the league, according to an anonymous survey released Tuesday by NBA.com, must be taking into account Bryant's torn Achilles' tendon. Bryant received 20% of the tally, the first time in the 12-year history of the survey that he had not led the voting at his position.

Bryant, 35, is coming off a season in which he displayed no discernible dropoff, averaging 27.3 points a game and playing heavy minutes until his injury ended his season in mid-April. He is not expected to return before next month at the earliest.

"My gosh, nobody played better than him," D'Antoni said of Bryant, who didn't speak with reporters. "You never know what's behind their thinking, but I'm sure 30 execs would get him in a second if they could get him."

NBA general managers did bestow one honor on Bryant, selecting the 18-year veteran as the league's toughest player. They'll get no argument from D'Antoni, and not just because he watched Bryant make a pair of free throws in the moments after he ruptured his Achilles.

"Just take every day he plays," D'Antoni said. "When we were in New York, with his back he couldn't even get to the bus and he played 30, 40 minutes, whatever it was, and I didn't think he was going to play at all. So, no, toughness is not a hard word for him."

The Lakers showed resolve in Bryant's absence after briefly looking as if they had left their legs in China following their recent nine-day trip.

Highlights included Shawne Williams blocking a dunk attempt by Enes Kanter and Xavier Henry wowing the crowd with a one-handed breakaway dunk.

A programming note in case Henry (eight points) makes the team: His first name is pronounced ZAH-vee-ay.

Backup point guard Jordan Farmar led the Lakers with 20 points, becoming one of four players to score in double figures off the bench.

The Lakers played without center Chris Kaman, who continued to be sidelined by gastrointestinal distress related to the trip overseas. D'Antoni said he hoped Kaman could return when the team next practices on Thursday.

Williams, starting in place of Kaman, had nine points and five rebounds but made only three of 10 shots.

Point guard Steve Nash scored five points in 14 minutes, sitting out the entire second half after experiencing neck soreness.

Gasol knows how little rankings can mean after the Lakers were highly rated going into last season but scraped into the playoffs and were swept in the first round.

"We were," Gasol said, "and see where we ended?"

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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