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Kobe Bryant's apparent endorsement of possible Raja Bell acquisition speaks to his competitiveness

July 6, 2010 |  4:23 pm


A season after Ron Artest stormed cross court to get in Kobe Bryant's face during the 2009 NBA playoffs, Bryant welcomed his arrival in L.A. with open arms. Four seasons after Raja Bell clotheslined him in a Lakers' playoff game against the Phoenix Suns, Bryant apparently is doing the same thing.

Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported that both the Lakers and Bell share a "strong mutual interest to reach agreement on a deal," with Bryant being what Wojnarowski described as a "strong advocate" for a deal to happen. For those wondering how Bryant can go from enemy to friend in a heartbeat simply don't understand that he views adversaries and teammates simply in the context of basketball. It's fair to say Bryant doesn't have many friends in the game within his inner circle, although he created bonds with several teammates in the 2008 Olympics. It's also fair to say that even if Bryant feels personal satisfaction in dominating opponents, that animosity quickly dies once the game ends and if they wind up becoming his teammate.

That's why in addition to Bell's defensive toughness and effective outside shooting, Bryant's endorsement of Bell means the Lakers would highly benefit from his presence. Bryant likes a player if he believes their work ethic is solid and they have good intentions in helping the team. Even when Artest went through his struggles last season in shooting and understanding the triangle offense, for example, Bryant forever praised him because of his solid defense and willingness to play hard every game.

"There's been times where I've been on the road where I couldn't sleep and I'd go to the gym and work out at 12 o'clock at night and Ron's in there," Bryant said during his exit interview. "He's working there and we get a chance to talk about the season and the commitment to winning. I think that's where bonds are forged."

That same bond can happen with Bell. The Times' Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner recently reported that with the Lakers' recently agreeing to terms with Steve Blake, the team has under $2 million left on the mid-level exception, so it remains financially unclear if acquiring Bell is feasible. If that were to happen, however,  the inevitable storyline would involve Bell's clothesline on Bryant in Game 5 of the 2006 NBA playoffs, and whether the two have patched things up since then.

But the clear answer seems to be that the two have moved beyond the war of words they had during that series, with Bell accusing Bryant of continually hitting him in the face and Bryant describing Bell as a "kid" even though Bell is older than Bryant. Instead, Bryant would talk about how the acquisition would help improve the team's toughness and bolster the team's backcourt that would feature Derek Fisher's experience and leadership, Blake's solid point-guard skills and Bell's effective outside shooting. Meanwhile, Bell would express giddiness over playing with Bryant instead of defending him as well as gratitude after the Warriors waived him last season after he opted to have season-ending surgery on his injured wrist.

I spoke to Artest earlier in the playoffs about what the transformation was like for him to go from defending Bryant to becoming his teammate. He likened it to suddenly becoming involved in a television show he was just watching. And if the Bell signing happened, the same transformation would take place, creating a show Bryant, Bell and Lakers fans alike would all want to witness.

Photo: The Lakers have reported interest in free agent guard Raja Bell. Credit: Robert Gauthier/LAT.