It fell to Kobe Bryant to make sense of the Los Angeles Lakers’ up-and-down-and-really-down season on Tuesday afternoon.
The Lakers’ star, his left leg on a scooter after stitches were removed from his surgically repaired Achilles tendon, urged management to keep the core of the present team — starters Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and, of course, Bryant — intact, cost be damned.
“I would really love to see our guys come back, our core guys come back,” Bryant said, adding that he hoped to ready by the season opener. “I understand the [salary] cap situation, so that’s always a concern. But all I can do is just voice my opinion.”
That’s an opinion that carries a tremendous amount of weight in the organization. Howard can become a free agent this summer, but, Bryant said, “I think Los Angeles is the perfect spot for him to assert himself, kind of put his foot down and have his career really take off and be what it should be. There’s no greater place for centers to play than here in Los Angeles. I’ll talk to him and bring him out to the house, chill with him a little bit, watch another cartoon movie or something. We’ll have a good time.”
Howard’s options seem fairly simple: Return to the Lakers for five years and $118 million or go to another team for four years and $88 million. Howard isn’t rushing into his decision.
“I’m going to take my time, get away from the game, get away from my phones and everything, just clear my head,” Howard said. “I think I deserve that right, so that’s what I want to do. … I do what’s going to be best for myself, what’s going to make me happy. At the end of the day, I can’t control who likes me, who dislikes me, but I have the right to be happy. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Still, ”a lot of things go well for you,” Bryant said, “if you win here.”
Ah, that “if.” It’s one that pertains to Bryant as well. Earlier this season, he hinted that the next season, his 18th in the league, might be his last. Then, the season “kind of threw me a curveball” when he tore his Achilles on April 12.
“It’s a sneaky injury in the sense that I don’t feel any pain. None,” Bryant said. “There’s no pain there, there’s no stiffness or anything like that. Sometimes I forget I’m injured and I stand up and I go to put weight on it and I catch myself. It’s one of those injuries where you just have to keep it in the front of your mind at all times and be patient.”
The Lakers played well enough to make the playoffs after a rocky start under Mike D’Antoni, but General Manager Mitch Kupchak wasn’t saying whether he agreed with Bryant about the team, which was swept in the playoffs.
“It’s true that Kobe would like to keep the team together, [but] … the landscape has changed in the NBA,” Kupchak said. “When you lose, everything is in play.”