Bryant’s status is matter at hand
History will show that the Lakers definitely took a player in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft, but the talk at their practice facility centered on someone else.
As if there’s any way to avoid the topic of Kobe Bryant ...
Not long after the Lakers selected Georgia Tech guard Javaris Crittenton with the 19th pick, General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Phil Jackson expanded on their almost non-existent comments over the last month regarding their unhappy superstar.
The Lakers aren’t interested in trading Bryant despite his demand to be dealt, Kupchak said. Jackson took it a step further.
“In my heart of hearts, I believe that when it comes time in Hawaii for this team to step on the floor [for training camp], Kobe Bryant’s going to be wearing a Laker uniform,” Jackson said.
Before Thursday, Kupchak had said little about the Bryant ordeal, and Jackson had only briefly referred to it in a recent e-mail to The Times.
In a TV interview immediately after the Lakers took Crittenton, Kupchak appeared to say nobody on the Lakers was untouchable, but he clarified his answer a few minutes later in a different interview.
“I’m not sure how that came across on the air, but that’s not what I meant to say,” he said. “I would refer back to what I said upon the conclusion of the season: With the exception of Kobe Bryant, who we intend to build this team around, nobody’s un-tradable.”
Jackson has communicated numerous times with Bryant over the last month. He provided a window into Bryant’s thoughts.
“Obviously, his play changed during the course of the year,” Jackson said. “He doesn’t want to play like that. He wants to play on a team where he feels he’s supported and he’s got some players that he could play with that can reach the talent level that he expects and also the desire level that he anticipates the players will play with.”
He was then asked if Bryant was being unreasonable with his demands. “He has his reasons, and I have to respect that,” Jackson said.
Finally, Jackson said there is simply no trade value for Bryant, if things were to escalate that far.
“There seems to be no quality, no value at all for what we expect for Kobe Bryant, and that’s understandable,” Jackson said. “Kobe’s got to respect what this team has to do and we’re trying to work our way through this.”
In Bryant, the Lakers have a nine-time All-Star who has set up a long summer, if not a stare-down, with the franchise as training camp approaches in October.
By drafting Crittenton, they now have a 6-foot-3 ball-handling guard who has size (194 pounds) and a decent three-point touch (35.6% last season). In many mock drafts, he was expected to be selected in the early teens.
“We were surprised that he dropped to us at 19,” Kupchak said. “We do need help in the backcourt, but he is another young player. We’ve got a young point guard that we like. I’m sure Jordan [Farmar] is wondering right now, ‘Why did the Lakers do what they did?’ But that stuff gets sorted out during training camp and during the season.”
As if on cue, Farmar arrived for a workout at the team’s training facility at 9 p.m.
Kupchak mentioned Crittenton’s size and strength as plusses. Crittenton, who played one season at Georgia Tech, also ran the triangle offense at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy High.
“I’m a Laker fan,” Crittenton said. “I watch a lot of Kobe when I have a chance. I’m a Magic Johnson fan. To be honest, I was a little surprised that I slipped that far. I’m thankful that they selected me. Things happen for a reason.”
The Lakers then took 6-7 3/4 Chinese guard Sun Yue with the 40th pick and Spanish center Marc Gasol with the 48th pick.
Yue, 21, has an impressive 34-inch vertical jump, and averaged 13.5 points and 10.5 assists for the Beijing Aoshen of the American Basketball Assn. (The team was suspended from the Chinese Basketball Assn. but subsequently moved to Los Angeles.)
Gasol, the 22-year-old brother of Memphis power forward Pau Gasol, averaged 10.8 points and 5.6 rebounds last season with Akasvayu Girona in Spain.
Team officials denied a report in a Greek newspaper that said the Lakers had offered a contract to Theodoros Papaloukas, who is generally considered to be one of the best point guards in Europe.
Papaloukas, listed at 6-7, was the Euroleague player of the year last season with CSKA Moscow.
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The Lakers selected Javaris Crittenton with their first-round pick Thursday:
* First-round pick: 19th overall.
* School: Georgia Tech.
* Position: Point guard.
* Age: 19.
* Points per game: 14.4.
* Assists per game: 5.8.
* It’s a fact: Played in the triangle offense all four years at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy.