Horace Grant has often promised to retire. And every fall, without fail, he returns to a training camp, a pair of sneakers slung over his shoulder and a smile on his face.
He did again this fall, at age 38, with a new wife, Andrea, and a young daughter, Naomi. They have a place in Brentwood, a Laker contract through the end of the season and a future in Santa Barbara, Andrea's hometown.
"Hey, this is a good life," he said. "What's wrong with this life? Outside of being a big-time reporter, I got the best job in the world."
He laughed, as he often does, which is a bit unusual in a mostly serious locker room.
On Sunday night, with Shaquille O'Neal out because of a sore right calf, Grant started at center, made three of his first four shots, helped on defense, played 27 minutes, and had a large part in a 121-89 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Afterward, Coach Phil Jackson said he thought Grant looked "quick" -- and did not add the usual qualifier, "for Horace."
For sure, Grant is gaining on his basketball and his court wiles after sitting out all but five games with the Orlando Magic last season, partly because of knee surgery and partly because he and then-coach Doc Rivers could no longer stand to be near each other. Coming up on the one-year anniversary of his release from the Magic, Grant is recovered from surgery, has strengthened his legs, and found the 15-foot jump shot that made him such an asset in a triangle offense he has played off and on during 16 NBA seasons.
"You can't fill shoes like that," Grant said of O'Neal's 22's.
But it worked for a night because the ball often moved on offense and the defense was spirited, leading Grant to observe, "When we help each other out on defense, we're a very good basketball team."
Grant is part of a jelling Laker bench that was quite ordinary for three weeks but is boasting a resurgent Bryon Russell and a healthy Slava Medvedenko. And now everyone is waiting on Derek Fisher's shooting. Fisher made his last three jumpers Wednesday in New York, but since then is one for 12.
"We're really happy that Horace is improving week by week," Jackson said. "I'm not talking about improving as a player, I'm talking about a basketball game -- in condition, legs underneath him, the reactive measure which he's got to increase. We didn't want to force too many minutes out of him, in case of an injury."
A 32-point victory did nothing for Jackson's impatience to get O'Neal back in the lineup.
Though the Lakers are 11-3, Jackson believes they'll need every minute of their 82 regular-season games to become a powerful playoff team.
"I don't think we have to be cautious," he said. "I don't think there's a degree in which we're going to have to coddle Shaquille and worry about him. He'll be ready when he's ready and we'll want him back when he's ready to come back. We need to play together in this season so we get the best kind of efforts and accumulate the best kind of memories as a team to go into the playoffs, when we get to the late part of the season to put the best foot forward."
Since reconnecting with his college shooting coach, Russell has made 11 of 16 shots, including five of six from beyond the three-point arc. Bob Tate, a former assistant at Long Beach State, attended Sunday night's game and watched Russell make five of six shots.... In their last three games, the Lakers have attempted 119 free throws. Their opponents -- New York, Chicago and Memphis -- have attempted 50.