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Pressure Stays on Bryant

Times Staff Writer

A handful of reporters entered the visitors’ locker room together Tuesday night and gathered near Kobe Bryant.

Bryant immediately stood and walked to the other side of the room, where reporters were not permitted, and sat down.

“He understands the pressure that is coming to play on him now,” Coach Phil Jackson said. “And he’s all isolated. There comes a time when, it doesn’t matter who you are in this country, if you are an icon or an idol or whatever, the image you have gets tarnished. And when it comes down, it really comes down hard.

“I know I was around when Michael [Jordan] had it happen to him. I know what it’s like from that standpoint, to watch somebody have to deal with being a darling and then not being a darling.”

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Bryant speaks after each game and some practices, sometimes talking to the edge of his legal issues and his emotional balance. Other times, it seems, the topic is just too raw.

“Kobe is handling it well,” Jackson said. “He understands it and I think he has a grasp on it. But dealing with it every day is not always easy because different things come up.

“All in all, Kobe is fine. Now that the season started and he is traveling with the team, he’s back in the fold. He’s in the huddles with the guys saying things and swapping tales. He’s enjoying himself immensely.”

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Bryant was booed with some authority during introductions at The Palace of Auburn Hills, and booed when he held the ball for any length of time.

He hardly seemed to notice.

The organization is five months into the rape accusations against Bryant, and the players are two months into the daily questions about Bryant’s mood and Bryant’s game and Bryant’s willingness to stay close.

While there is a sense that the next bombshell could come with any morning newspaper or nightly newscast, the season is becoming somewhat routine.

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“I don’t think it bothers us,” Jackson said. “I don’t think it’s natural, but it is a situation that we are forced to live with.

“It won’t go away.”

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Horace Grant was released by the Orlando Magic last season in part because his relationship with Coach Doc Rivers deteriorated so quickly. Less than a year later, Rivers is gone too. He was fired Tuesday.

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“You have a give a little in this league in terms of listening to your players,” Grant said. “Doc was the type of guy, it was his way or the highway.... Even Phil listens to us sometimes.

“I think Johnny Davis will do a good job. He listens to the players a little more.”

If not Davis, Grant said -- are you ready for this? -- “I’d say bring Brian Hill back. He’s a leader. Me being part of what happened to him down there, that wasn’t called for.”

A player revolt finished Hill’s term in Orlando.

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Six months after surgery to repair a tendon in his left foot, Rick Fox is closing in on being able to participate in five-on-five scrimmaging.

“He takes two steps forward and one step back,” Jackson said. “It’s slow progress.... Because Rick works so hard, he pushes himself to the point of exhaustion and also to gain.”

When Fox is cleared to play full-court, which Jackson said could come in the next two weeks, “Then he’s a short distance away,” the coach said. “It could be anywhere from one to two weeks, depending on how he looks when he’s out there on the court.”

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