Kobe Bryant: ‘I’m comfortable with what we have’

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Kobe Bryant left Lakers headquarters today in a much better mood than a year ago, when he was obviously unhappy with the team's management.

He didn't offer, at least in public, any calls for a change. Just a smile at a job (almost) completed.

"I'm comfortable with what we have," Bryant said, when asked if the management team led by General Manager Mitch Kupchak had personnel moves to make this off-season. "Whatever Mitch decides to do, he decides to do."

Already, he said, the bitterness of the Lakers losing to the Celtics in the NBA Finals is drifting away.

"I bounce back pretty quickly," Bryant said. "Not to say the loss doesn't sting, because it does and it will, but I bounce back quickly."

Bryant will head off to Las Vegas next week for practice with the U.S. Olympic team. After the Beijing Games, he said, he will have surgery on his injured right pinkie.

When asked if winning an Olympic gold medal would help dissipate the sting of losing in the NBA Finals, Bryant said:

"They're two different things. I wanted both of 'em."

A sparkling season that ended with a thud in Boston in Game 6 of the NBA Finals officially concludes today and Friday with the Lakers going through their exit interviews.

Bryant, originally expected to have his interview Friday, chose to have it today.

Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher will have their interviews Friday. The rest of the team is going today, and The Times is reporting on their comments as they become available.

Sasha Vujacic

The sharp-shooting guard had a major impact off the bench for the Lakers this season. His NBA Finals will be remembered for a 20-point effort off the bench in Game 3, but also by Ray Allen blowing by him for a crucial layup in Game 4.

"I'm one of those guys that I hate to lose," Vujacic said. "I'm not going to hide it.

"We did a lot of positive things, but like I said after the game, it's painful and it's not going to be forgotten."

Whether it's remembered on this team or another is still to be determined. Vujacic is a restricted free agent this off-season.

"I know I'm going to be next year with a team that wants and needs me the most," he said. "Who it's going to be, I'm not sure right now."

But he also stated that he has a heavy interest in remaining a Laker.

"We are a great team, we have great chemistry; who wouldn't want to keep that together?" he said.

Pau Gasol

When Andrew Bynum went down, Gasol came in as a cornerstone that helped the Lakers reach the NBA Finals.

But he also took criticism for not being physical enough in the interior as the playoffs wore on.

His response:

"I don't think a soft team could get to the Finals, period," he said, adding: "I think we could have been tougher, a little more physical."

Gasol said that he considered the Celtics better prepared for the Finals than the Lakers.

"We're young," he said. "We are a young team, but we definitely have potential and room for growth."

He will wait about two weeks before joining Spain's Olympic team.

Next year, he looks forward to playing alongside Bynum and will hold the bitter emotions of losing close.

"I'm going to keep the feelings of struggling and pain after this loss because this team has so much potential to do well," he said.

Jordan Farmar

The second-year point guard had the keys to the team's second unit, but also experienced an erratic postseason.

At UCLA, he was on the losing end of a championship as well.

"I felt this feeling before and it was really similar, I think we'll be all right though," he said.

Farmar said he will work on his shooting and strength over the summer.

"I feel like I have a lot more to offer," he said.

Chris Mihm

The backup center missed most of the season and played only briefly in the Finals.

He said he is looking forward to a short summer and, finally, a healthy season.

"I was finally able to start training in the weight room to get some pop in my legs that I hadn't had in a while," he said.

Mihm can opt out of his contract, but said he will not use it and will instead become a free agent after next season.

He sees himself contributing next season to the Lakers' frontcourt rotation.

"That's exciting for me," Mihm said. "I think I'll mesh in well…. I think we could have a devastating rotation of bigs next year; not falling off at any point of the rotation."

Vladimir Radmanovic

The forward probably will see his playing time affected with the return of a healthy Bynum.

"I'm not worried about that," Radmanovic said. "We just need him to get back."

Radmanovic, who went through an erratic season and often drew tough defensive assignments in the playoffs, said he would like to work on his consistency.

Otherwise, he remained mum on what was discussed in his exit meeting.

Luke Walton

The small forward saw his numbers dip this season, played an excellent first-round series against the Denver Nuggets, but couldn't gain any traction again for the rest of the playoffs.

Walton said it was tough and sometimes frustrating to see his minutes fluctuate, but the end result was worth it.

"Obviously, numbers-wise it wasn't as nice as I would like it to be, but it's a team game and there's a lot that goes in with that," he said.

Walton said in his exit meeting with Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and General Manager Mitch Kupchak, they discussed focusing on team defense heading into next season.

Ronny Turiaf

The forward will be a restricted free agent this summer and faces a possible logjam in the frontcourt with the return of Bynum next season.

Still, he said he is not worried about his pending free agency and stated his preference for returning to the Lakers.

He said that he can fill a tough-man presence and slide easily into the rotation should there be another injury.

"Last time I checked, I was the only Laker to be ejected from a game," he said, referring to the second round of the playoffs when he was ejected for tossing Utah's Ronnie Price to the ground.

Trevor Ariza

He missed a large chunk of the season with a broken right foot before finally seeing some select minutes in the NBA Finals.

Ariza has an opt-out clause in his contract, but said he will return to the Lakers, calling it a dream to play in the city where he grew up.

"They told me this is a good place for me, that I fit in really well," Ariza said.

Ariza said he experienced no pain in his foot during the playoffs, but has an MRI scheduled Monday as a precaution to see how it reacted to playing time.

This summer, he said he will focus on handling the ball and shooting and trying to add 10 pounds.

Next season, he will change jersey numbers from No. 3 to No. 1.


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