So it begins again. . . .
It was easy to tell that the NBA off-season ended with all the positive publicity it got from the Olympics, and the real deal started with Memphis’ Darrell Arthur and Miami’s Mario Chalmers getting sent home for partying at the rookie orientation camp.
Obviously, the NBA needs a pre-orientation camp to tell the rookies what they can and can’t do at orientation camp.
To paraphrase “Hi,” the Nicolas Cage character in “Raising Arizona,” this still ain’t exactly Ozzie and Harriet.
Of course, every once in a while, some dependable source of sensation has an attack of lucidity, which is why the Lakers’ opening day was so dull.
For years no one could match them for drama.
In 2003, Kobe Bryant flew in from a hearing in his trial in Eagle, Colo., as Lakers officials threw up a cordon around the El Segundo facility, trying to keep the tabloid press out.
In 2005, Bryant announced he was OK with the return of Phil Jackson, even after they feuded and Jackson called him “uncoachable” in his tell-all book.
Last fall, after a summer of excoriating the organization, no one even knew if Bryant would show up.
This fall there’s something funny going on . . . nothing.
“It’s amazing what can happen in just a year’s time on and off the court,” said Derek Fisher of the new, low-key atmosphere.
“I’m sure the Celtics’ training camp is buzzing quite a bit. There may be some other training camps that may be buzzing with more of a national presence, but we love you guys [the local press corps] just as much. We’ll take our home cooking and we’ll keep it moving for now.”
The Lakers still have issues but for a change, they’re not the kind that can blow up the franchise.
Small forward -- Moving over from power forward, Lamar Odom will start in a Scottie Pippen-like point forward role. If Odom can’t do it, Trevor Ariza will get the next shot.
Doing his bit to bring back the old days, Odom said Jackson “must have woken up and bumped his head” or was “out of his . . . mind” if he thought Odom would come off the bench.
This still doesn’t rise to the level of becoming an issue because it’s only Odom.
If he winds up coming off the bench, it’ll be because he showed he couldn’t play small forward.
At that point, with his $14.1-million-a-year-deal running out and no extension offer forthcoming -- which may be why Odom is so sensitive -- his days would be numbered and his feelings about coming off the bench even less important.
Andrew Bynum -- Behind the scenes, his people are anxious, bordering on really anxious, to have his extension done, but it’s not unreasonable for the Lakers to want to see him play during the exhibition season before handing him a five-year, $88-million deal.
With Bynum two seasons from unrestricted free agency, the team has all the leverage but it is almost as eager to sign him as he is to be signed, so this shouldn’t be a biggie.
Bryant -- Then there’s the matter of his extension.
Barring disasters, this won’t become an issue until July 1 when Bryant can opt out.
Bryant is as happy as he can be, preparing for the season with a team he knows is good enough to win a title. Of course, his state of mind next July 1 will depend on what it actually does win.
It’s still almost impossible for any other contender to have enough cap space to sign him or enough depth to trade for him without gutting itself.
Nevertheless, this is one negotiation the Lakers would like to conduct coming off a championship.
The pressure of expectations -- There are none or, at least, that’s their story.
Jackson, asked about his expectations, says he hasn’t talked to the team about any and won’t.
“We don’t really know if we can win yet because we haven’t done it yet,” Fisher said. “The difference between our teams before [with Shaquille O’Neal], it was a foregone conclusion in our mind so it didn’t really matter what everyone else was saying.”
Actually, there’s a lot of pressure on the Lakers, with all their moving parts, to say nothing of their own expectations, internal and external, which have always been crushing, even when O’Neal left and they weren’t very good.
This team is more like the ones with Shaq and Kobe, only quieter. With their new professionalism, they still have to bring home some titles the way those madmen did.