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Bryant Second to Manning in Voting for Sixth Man

Kobe Bryant finished a distant second in balloting for NBA sixth man of the year, a missed chance that had seemed apparent for the Laker swingman since his prolonged slump after the All-Star game and became official when the award was presented to Danny Manning of the Phoenix Suns on Thursday.

“I wanted to win it,” Bryant said. “I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t. But Danny Manning had a great year. My hat’s off to him and I offer congratulations.”

Manning, the former Clipper, received 57 of a possible 116 votes from media members who regularly cover the NBA. Bryant, whose 15.4 points a game was the highest for a reserve in Los Angeles Laker history, was second with 31 votes, followed by Dale Ellis (21), John Starks (3), Jerry Stackhouse (2) and Michael Curry and Tracy Murray (1 each).

“That’s too bad,” Laker Coach Del Harris said of the outcome. “Danny was certainly a worthy candidate. Kobe’s going to have a lot of time in the future to win a lot of awards, and I think he will. But there was a span in there [when he struggled] that got so much attention, more than it probably should have.

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“I’m sure Danny didn’t have a great game every night either. But there was such a focus on Kobe that every bad game was magnified. I don’t think Danny had to deal with that. And Kobe played his best ball of the season at the end. Four of his best games were at the end, and his best one was the last one.”

Manning, meanwhile, started the last seven games in which he played, and 11 of 70 in all, before tearing a knee ligament April 7 that has forced a third such surgery in his career, scheduled for today in Los Angeles. He averaged 13.5 points and 5.6 rebounds, finished 12th in shooting at 51.6%, and played all three frontcourt positions for the Suns.

“It’s a special award for a lot of reasons, namely to know that I was able to come in and help a team like we have this year,” Manning said at a news conference in Phoenix.

He was originally disappointed to learn Coach Danny Ainge would use him off the bench.

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“As he said, he wasn’t overly excited about it,” Ainge said. “And he was arguably our best player coming out of training camp. But when we talked about it, Danny said to me, ‘I’m going to win the sixth man award. If I’ve got to be the sixth man, I want to be the best.’ ”

Manning isn’t ready to retire.

“I’m going to be back in a Suns uniform, but experience tells me not to set any timetable,” he said.

His best game came in a 140-139 four-overtime victory at Portland Nov. 14 when he had 35 points, 18 in the extra periods. Twelve days later, he went over the 10,000-point mark in a game against New Jersey.

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Harris recently coached his 1,000th NBA game, becoming only the 18th to reach that milestone.

“I’ve always wanted to be a basketball coach,” he said. “To be able to do it at the highest level, for a long period of time, under all the intense pressure and scrutiny you go through, it is an accomplishment.”

He also moved into a tie with Cleveland’s Mike Fratello for 17th place on the all-time win list, at 550. Only six active coaches have more: Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley, Don Nelson, Larry Brown, Jerry Sloan and Chuck Daly.

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For the second time in three years, Harris is coaching in the playoffs against one of his former players he also helped get started on the sidelines.

It was Houston’s Rudy Tomjanovich in 1996, who played under Harris with the Rockets and then joined his staff as a scout and assistant coach. The counterpart starting tonight is Portland’s Mike Dunleavy, who played on the same Rocket team and later joined Harris’ staff in Milwaukee, only to be an emergency activation a few times.

“It’s really not coach against coach, it’s our team against their team,” Harris said, downplaying any emotional connection. “I’ve got three head coaches and 15 assistant coaches around the league who played for me or worked for me. So almost everywhere I go, there’s someone on the other bench.”

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Derek Fisher has been playing and practicing with his left arm wrapped below the elbow, especially significant because he’s left-handed, but the starting point guard passed it off as a minor bruise. “It doesn’t affect me when I’m playing,” he said.


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