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Category: Kobe Bryant

Magic Johnson: Jim Buss is running the Lakers, not Mitch Kupchak

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These are uncomfortable days for the Lakers, who can't avoid drama or the glare of the spotlight yet again.

Magic Johnson said in a conference call Wednesday that Lakers executive Jim Buss, not General Manager Mitch Kupchak, was making the important decisions for the franchise.

"It's not Mitch's situation anymore. Mitch isn't running the team. Jim Buss is running the team," Johnson said. "Mitch has to follow the direction of Jim Buss and what he wants. I wouldn't say Mitch is the problem. He's going to do his job."

Mitch Kupchak has been in the Lakers' front office for 25 years but Buss has gradually been handed more power over the years by his father, team owner Jerry Buss.

Johnson said Jim Buss should meet personally with Kobe Bryant because the 14-time All-Star "just wants to be informed as a leader and future Hall of Famer and a guy who has brought five championships to the Lakers."

"He wants more communication, probably like he did when [former Coach] Phil Jackson was there and he worked well with Mitch. I don't think Kobe feels he has that type of relationship or the communication has been there with Jim. What probably has to happen is they need to sit Kobe down and sit Jim down. Dr. [Jerry] Buss was the master at taking you to lunch or taking you to dinner and going over what he was thinking and what he wanted to do with the team. Jerry West was good at that as well. Kobe, Mitch and Jim just have to get on the same page and things will be OK."

When asked if he would meet with Jim Buss, Bryant responded Wednesday, "Um, perhaps."

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Kobe Bryant taking measured approach in leading Lakers

For the first weekend through training camp, Pau Gasol wore a Lakers uniform, unsure how soon he'd have to take it off.

The NBA rejected the Lakers' attempt to trade him to Houston in a three-way deal involving Chris Paul. So while the Lakers kept trying, Gasol kept reiterating his desire to wear purple and gold, provided endless interviews to the media spouting his positive attitude and practiced as if nothing fazed him. That hardly impressed Kobe Bryant, though.

"You have your job to do and you come out and do your job," Bryant said in an unsympathetic tone. "You can't worry about it."

Three months later Bryant was worrying about it. Gasol recalled Bryant approaching him in recent days, saying how tough it must feel to remain on the trading block leading to the March 15 deadline. Bryant then took those sentiments public following the Lakers' 102-90 loss Sunday to the Phoenix Suns.

"If they're not going to do it, come out and say you're not going to do it," Bryant said. "This way, he can be comfortable and go out and can perform and play and he can invest all of himself into the game. You can't have one of our pillars not knowing if he's going to be here or not. Do something. One way or another, do something."

It's easy to note the contradiction in Bryant's statements and wonder about the ulterior motives. Believe Bryant initially remained detached because he thought the Lakers might acquire Paul. Argue that Bryant spoke out Sunday to leverage the front office into making a big deal three weeks before the deadline. Think he may have just had an emotional outburst to mask his 10 turnovers against Phoenix.

Those are all legitimate explanations. But there's also two others. First, the painfully obvious one. The Lakers' front office led by executive Jim Buss appears more and more unlikely to land a big deal before the March 15 deadline. A statement from General Manager Mitch Kupchak may have highlighted the absurdity to remove a strong trade chip in Gasol in future talks. But Bryant needed to call out the front office's misgivings, led by Buss, after giving them a three-month grace period where they accomplished little and informed him on nothing. Secondly, there's the more subtle sign.  Bryant's public support for Gasol serves as the latest example of his measured approach in leading the Lakers.

"He's not perfect," Lakers rookie guard Andrew Goudelock noted before making clear he loves Bryant's brutal honesty and perfectionist work ethic. But it's definitely calculated.

"You just have to go for feel," Bryant said. "It just depends. I can tell when [Gasol's] down and when enough is enough. He went through the first phase and played through it and got out of that. Then he gets hit with another one. Then I can tell he's down and this is a little harder to overcome. We have two [road] games coming up and I don't want that weighing on him and thinking about it. Will he still be thinking about it? Sure, but he knows we all support him here in the locker room and we all got his back."

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Kobe Bryant's presence remains strong in China

The moment Kobe Bryant entered the gym, the cheers and screams permeated the room.

The moment Bryant exchanged high fives, "M-V-P" chants bounced off the walls.

The moment Bryant left the building, fans clamored to touch him and ask him for autographs.

Sounds like your typical night at a Lakers' game at Staples Center. Except it wasn't.

Bryant entered the gym at Gertz-Ressler High School Thursday where he oversaw a Mandarin exchange program partnered with the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation and with After-School All-Stars, an event that featured Chinese exchange students participating Thursday in defensive, shooting and dribbling drills.

The enthusiastic response obviously highlights the popularity the Lakers' star commands. During the event, students presented him with a pair of Nike shoes and a scroll written in Chinese caligraphy. But the reception also represents how Bryant's made significant inroads in China.

"It's given tremendous inspiration and hope to a lot of players," Bryant said. "The questions that I get a lot when I'm over there is what is it going to take for an Asian basketball player to really emerge and be one of the premier players in the league. I say, all it takes is hard work. For years, they thought there was some secret formula going on. No, you just practice and you combine that with God-given talent. I think it does nothing but gives it a good jolt and helps kids believe they can come to the NBA and make a significant impact."

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Pau Gasol fights frustrations during Lakers' win over Phoenix

Once he slipped a well-placed pass from Kobe Bryant out of his hands, Pau Gasol picked it up and smacked it against his palms.

A few moments after Steve Blake threw an unreachable lob over his head, Gasol slumped over on the bench on the next timeout.

When former teammate and Phoenix guard Shannon Brown snuck behind for a put-back dunk that cut the Lakers’ lead to five points with 4:28 remaining, Gasol stared off into the distance.

Plenty of images defined Gasol’s frustration on a night the Lakers exuded positive energy everywhere else in their 111-99 victory Friday over the Phoenix Suns. Bryant’s 36 points on 14-of-25 shooting came after a seven-game slump where he shot only 37% from the field. Andrew Bynum’s 17 points on a seven-of-13 clip showcased his continual growth in passing and re-posting out of double teams. The reserve unit’s combined 34 points suggested it finally escape remaining one of the NBA’s least effective benches.   

As far as Gasol, though, his 10 points on only four-of-13 shooting conveyed something to Bryant beyond the Lakers’ forward having a bad game. Bryant attributed Gasol’s effort to “an emotional couple of days for him” as reports circulated this week the Lakers may trade him before the March 15 deadline. An online report mentioned the Minnesota Timberwolves offered Derrick Williams and draft picks for Gasol. 

“Personally I don't understand that crap,” Bryant said. “But it is what it is. It's important for him to know we support him. I support him especially. I just want him to go out there and play hard and do what he does best for us.”

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Alvin Gentry considers the Lakers a Western Conference threat

The Lakers all season have faced some unsettling realities that remain unresolved. 

They are still experiencing Lamar Odom's departure and have yet to use their $8.9-million trade exception. Ever since Shannon Brown left for Phoenix via free agency, the Lakers haven't found a definitive backup for Kobe Bryant.

And, oh yeah. There's the whole transition period involving the Lakers shifting from Phil Jackson's triangle offense to Mike Brown's strong corner offense. In the past five games, the Lakers have actually worsened in several categories compared to their season average, including points per game (88.6, 92.48), field-goal percentage (41.2%, 44.7%) and turnovers (15.4, 14.83).

Add all those ingredients together and the Lakers (17-12) enter Friday's game against the Phoenix Suns with a fifth-place standing in the Western Conference. Still, Suns Coach Alvin Gentry considers the Lakers a legitimate threat. 

"As long as they have No. 24, they will be thought of that way," Gentry said. "Their record doesn't really matter. They still have him, [Andrew] Bynum and [Pau] Gasol ...  At the end of the day, are you telling me anybody would want to play them in the playoffs in the first round? No, I don't think so. I don't think anyone is begging to play them in the playoffs in the first round."

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Kobe Bryant wants to adjust how he scores

The shots rarely go in for Kobe Bryant these days, but he remains insistent they'll find its way.

"We'll free me up a little bit more," Bryant said after shooting 37% in the past month. "Get some more screens. Get me some easier looks so I don't have to look at traps all night."

The Lakers' team balance has swayed overwhelmingly toward Bryant's end. He's logged a 38% usage rating, his highest since the 2005-06 season. He leads the league in scoring. Bryant also holds that honor in field-goal attempts. Lakers forward Pau Gasol sounds ready for a change, but not the same ideas Bryant envisioned.

"I don't think at this point he's going to find out other ways to have better looks," Gasol said. "But obviously our offense has a variety of options and it's good to explore different ones."

And at the center of that debate involves Lakers Coach Mike Brown, whose talk about a balanced offense while continuing to find better looks for Bryant mostly steers toward the latter.

"That will be something we have to continue to look for and continue to do the whole season," Brown said. "That's no different."

Of course, it's not different. The Lakers had this debate early in the season after Bryant shot six of 28 from the field in the Lakers' New Year's Day loss to Denver. He responded by receiving pre-game injections on his strained ligament in his right wrist, shooting more off-the-ball than in isolation sets and logged at least 40 points in four consecutive games.

The Lakers host the Phoenix Suns Friday at Staples Center in a game that brings this topic full circle. After all, Bryant dropped 48 points in Lakers' 99-83 victory Jan. 10 against Phoenix and brought more clarity that he wouldn't shoot less. He'd just shoot more effectively.

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Lakers absorb Kobe Bryant's shooting struggles

Kobe BryantThere Kobe Bryant stood laughing with Pau Gasol over a miffed alley-oop lob.

There the bench looked sharp as an actually cohesive unit.

There Metta World Peace drove the lane and threw a one-handed dunk.

The Lakers' 86-78 victory Tuesday over the Atlanta Hawks featured several facets the team hardly displays on a regular basis. And not just the first appearance at a Lakers game this season of Vanessa Bryant, Kobe's estranged wife, who sat behind the team bench and later was seen outside the locker room.

Bryant and Gasol, for once, didn't fret over silly mistakes. The bench, near the bottom of the league in scoring all season, posted 28 points, including 10 from rookie guard Andrew Goudelock. World Peace scored 10 points, nailed two three-pointers and even threw down two dunks after clearing the air with Coach Mike Brown during the morning shoot-around over his frustrations regarding his role.

Somehow Bryant's 10 points on a five-of-18 clip and five turnovers became a mere afterthought.

"Every time we do something like this, whether it's Kobe having an off night or Pau or whatever, it gives our team a little bit more belief," Brown said. "If we get stops, we're going to give ourselves a chance. At the end of the day, we don't always have to put the ball in the hole."

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When will Father Time catch Kobe Bryant? Ask him

Kobe.600

These are difficult days for Kobe Bryant.

He said Wednesday he was "obsessed" with slipping a finger into a sixth championship ring, but the Lakers would hardly be termed title-contending material with a 14-11 record.

He seemed nostalgic, almost wistful, when he spoke after the Lakers practiced at TD Garden in Boston. They play the Celtics on Thursday.

At age 33 and with 49,282 minutes on his NBA odometer, it might only get tougher for Bryant.

"That's what I hear," he said. "Father Time will eventually catch up. It’s not going to catch up this year. Maybe it will be next year. Maybe it will be the year after that. That’s the kind of the challenge that I enjoy going through."

Bryant has two more years on his contract, for $58.3 million, after this season.

The Lakers are a work in progress this season, a well-documented 3-9 on the road and one of the NBA's worst-shooting teams from long distance, but Bryant still wants another title to add to his collection of five.

"I’m obsessed about it. I’ve got to get it," he said. "It’s just one of those things. I can think of nothing else.

"As a kid growing up, that’s all I saw. I watched [Larry] Bird, I watched Magic [Johnson] and I watched [Michael] Jordan win multiple titles. You just kind of grow up saying this is how it should be. This is what I must do. I want another one."

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Photo: The Nuggets' Andre Miller guards Kobe Bryant. Credit: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images.

 

Is Kobe Bryant the greatest Laker of all time? [Poll]

Kobe Bryant

When Kobe Bryant surpassed Shaquille O'Neal as the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history, O'Neal responded via Twitter: "Congrats to Kobe for being the greatest laker ever."

It's an interesting assessment, considering three of the four players still ahead of Bryant on the scoring list (No. 4 Wilt Chamberlain, No. 2 Karl Malone and No. 1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) are former Lakers.

But as far as points scored as a member of the Lakers, Bryant is at the top of the list with 28,601. And considering he probably will spend his entire career in purple and gold, chances are pretty good he will end up being the all-time leader in many other categories as well.

Of course, there are some other local legends to consider. When The Times conducted an online survey about the greatest Lakers of all time in 2010, Bryant finished fourth behind Magic Johnson, Jerry West and Abdul-Jabbar. The rest of the top 10 was rounded out by Elgin Baylor, James Worthy, Chick Hearn, Chamberlain, O'Neal and Jerry Buss.

Bryant is one of seven players to have won five NBA championships with the Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar won a sixth with the Milwaukee Bucks and Robert Horry won a total of seven, but only three as a member of the Lakers.

Writers from around the Tribune Co. will discuss Shaq's comments about Bryant being the greatest Laker ever. Check back throughout the day for more responses and join the discussion by voting in the poll and leaving a comment of your own.

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Coach Mike Brown could face suspension in wake of ejection

Lakers2_350The Lakers will play Philadelphia on Monday.

Will Mike Brown coach them?

The Lakers coach could face a suspension after appearing to bump referee Zach Zarba early in the fourth quarter of a 96-87 loss to Utah on Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena.

Brown was upset after watching Utah guard Earl Watson mug Pau Gasol for a steal that led to a dunk by Derrick Favors with 8 minutes 35 seconds left in the game. The Lakers coach bounded onto the court and received two technical fouls, resulting in his first ejection of the season.

"I thought [Watson] ran through him to get the ball," Brown said later after watching a replay in the locker room.

The Jazz went on to score the next nine points to complete a 14-0 run. Gasol, who finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds, agreed with his coach's assessment that he was fouled on the play.

"There was definitely contact," Gasol said. "There was definitely a possibility for the ref to make the call. He didn't make it."

Brown said he apologized to his team but did not think his actions resulted in the defeat.

"I shouldn't have done what I did because it put our team in a deeper hole than it was in," Brown said. "It's not good to do that. It's not setting a good example or setting the right tone for our team."

Kobe Bryant, who scored 11 of his 26 points during a late comeback in which the Lakers trimmed their deficit to six points, pinned the defeat on a discrepancy in rebounding, not a loss of composure. Utah had 18 offensive rebounds and outrebounded the Lakers overall, 50-42.

But the big story was Brown, who might be watching his team play Philadelphia on Monday from a fancy hotel room.

"I don't know," Brown said when asked if he bumped Zarba. "I'm just upset about the loss."

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Photo: Lakers Coach Mike Brown is restrained by security after getting ejected for bumping referee Zach Zarba in the fourth quarter Saturday night in Utah. Credit: George Frey / EPA

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