Bryant, Odom may sit a spell
Phil Jackson looked loose and relaxed, having let the sting of last season’s championship failure roll off his back and disappear into the waters of the Flathead River during an off-season spent at his Montana home.
The Lakers’ coach, who turned 63 last week, met with reporters for almost half an hour Friday, touching on Andrew Bynum’s health, possible reductions in Kobe Bryant’s playing time and a front court that might or might not include Lamar Odom as a starter.
Bryant also spoke briefly with a handful of reporters in the players’ parking lot at the team training facility. He smiled a lot and seemed upbeat while detailing why he skipped surgery that would have required a 12-week recovery period for a torn ligament in his right pinkie.
“That was too long,” he said, splaying out his fingers and saying that enough scar tissue had built up in the pinkie to make it less dicey to play with this season. “It was riskier last season than it is now.”
Between Bryant’s pinkie and Bynum’s left knee, the Lakers weren’t fully healthy when last season ended with a 131-92 loss to Boston in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Jackson, however, hopes for a fresh beginning when training camp opens Tuesday in El Segundo. Of greatest interest, the Lakers’ 20-year-old 7-footer appeared to be in good physical shape, Jackson said, though Bynum’s absence in the team’s last 57 games might have stalled his development.
“He’s lost the edge of how to play continual basketball from A to Z,” Jackson said. “He’s still just in the playground kind of stage here, but we’ll see if he can get to that level where you compete every moment you’re on the floor. That’s something Andrew was just getting ahold of when he was injured last year and we need to get him back to that space sometime hopefully this [next] month.”
Jackson mentioned Bynum again when asked to list the question marks facing the team in training camp. The regular season opener is Oct. 28 against Portland.
“Obviously, a big question is Andrew’s ability to get up and down the floor,” Jackson said. “Will he be able to run the court, have the stamina that he needs to have again to compete? That’s important.”
There were other talking points Friday, some more important than others.
Jackson referred to Bryant and Derek Fisher as the “senior citizens” of the team and said Bryant’s minutes would be shortened this season “without a doubt.” Bryant, who turned 30 last month, averaged 38.9 minutes a game last season on the way to his first MVP award. Jackson suggested Bryant would log closer to 36 or 37 minutes a game this season.
Jackson also spoke in depth about Odom, who will be entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $14.1 million this season.
A priority at training camp will be to effectively blend a front line of Bynum at center, Pau Gasol at power forward and Odom at small forward.
Odom had a speed advantage against power forwards in seasons past, but now he’ll be going against small forwards. Can he keep up with smaller types on defense? And can Odom, 6 feet 10, exploit his size advantage on offense?
“He’s going to have to make some adjustments and we’re going to have to see how he does with that,” Jackson said.
And if it fails?
“I don’t hesitate to say that if this team doesn’t work out the way I want it to, Trevor [Ariza] may be a starting player in that first five,” Jackson said. “I may just insert him and convince Lamar to come off the bench if I feel it’s better for the team and we don’t feel as comfortable on the floor as I’d like us to feel.”
The Lakers will need to mesh if they are to repeat as Western Conference champions. New Orleans added versatile forward James Posey in the off-season, Houston added Ron Artest, Utah is still young and scrappy, and San Antonio is still San Antonio (though a little bit longer in the tooth).
If the Lakers navigate through the West, they might meet up again with Boston, offering chance at redemption a year after losing the Finals in six games. Of course, that would be nine months from now, but it didn’t save Jackson from fielding a question about the Lakers’ looking like a “soft” team in the Finals.
“It was noticeable in the last series, the last game, that [Boston] came out with one specific purpose and that was to stick us in the basket, to really go down and go to the basket,” he said. “That affected us. It left a very sour taste in our mouth over the summer. Boston was tougher than we were in the last game. They got it. They deserved it.”
He can always hope Bynum makes a difference this season. And, in the grander scheme, that complacency doesn’t attach itself to the Lakers after advancing to the Finals.
“It’s remarkable that we did it last year, probably a year ahead of the schedule that I thought we could be on,” Jackson said. “We jelled well in the end of the season, played up to a potential that was higher than I expected. But now to not be complacent with that, come back and have that same desire, is really the goal for us.”
ON THE WEB
For more from Phil Jackson, including video, visit Andrew and Brian Kamenetzky’s Lakers blog at latimes.com/sports.