Still stars, but show starts in April

Just when you think you’ve seen it all from the people who gave you the Media Days From Hell. . . .

Calm broke out Saturday as the Lakers opened camp in a subdued session with fewer press people and less scurrying about.

As a Lakers official noted, not unhappily, “Everyone is in Miami with LeBron.”

That would be LeBron James and the Heat, who have taken the ceremonial lightning rod from Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

If the Lakers remain the Lakers, a rare peaceful note prevailed . . . even as they disclosed their Team That Could Be Great If It’s Ever Healthy isn’t.


On the other hand, after last season’s endless march to the playoffs, what do feathers that fly in September mean?

With Bryant weeks away, Andrew Bynum months away and their upcoming trip to Europe, Coach Phil Jackson wrote off their preseason as a “a bust” before it started, looking no more concerned than he ever does.

Actually, the trip, as opposed to the injuries, is hard even for the even-keeled Jackson, who didn’t like holding camp in the Lakers’ Hawaiian paradise.

To Jackson, having to take them to Europe . . . for NBA marketing . . . is like winning an eight-day bus tour of the underworld.

On the other hand, what, him worry at this late date?

This is Phil’s last season . . . unless he wins another title, Jerry Buss invites him back and he decides he has one more in him.

You know, like last season.

Jackson won his last title in Chicago in 1998, with Scottie Pippen out until January, having put off toe surgery until October in a contract dispute in which he said owner Jerry Reinsdorf could “go to hell.”

Jackson cares only about being there in April, an approach only his hardest-pressed and/or most secure peers, like San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Boston’s Doc Rivers, dare to try.

Of course, it’s a neat trick.

Last April, the Lakers and Celtics, who would meet in the Finals, looked out on their feet and the Spurs were out on theirs, falling to Phoenix, 4-1, in the second round.

So, if it wasn’t optimal that Bynum’s knee surgery was unavoidably delayed . . . so he could go to South Africa to see the World Cup . . . Jackson was going to bring him, and everyone else, along slowly, anyway.

Now, it will just be even slower.

As sign of the new maturity, or boredom, the media pursued the Bynum story dutifully but not crazily.

By that, I mean I didn’t get in any shoving matches like last fall’s with an “Entertainment Tonight” sound guy when everyone was a-flutter about Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian.

For his part, Bynum, whose nose isn’t impossible to get out of joint, handled it cheerfully.

“Obviously, it [criticism] is not unfair,” he said, “because you could get the surgery right after [the season]. . . . I don’t think that’s the thing you want to do coming off a long season and coming off a championship thing. I kind of took my time with it and I’m fine.”

Actually, he took his time to attend the World Cup.

“I don’t know if I’m going to have many opportunities to attend the World Cup,” Bynum said. “To me, it was a special moment, and I went out there and had a good time and now I’m back.”

If that wouldn’t fly everywhere, or anywhere else, this isn’t anywhere else.

Coaches actually have only so much say in what surgeries players undergo, when they undergo them or even when they come out of games.

Bryant wore himself out playing hurt last season and still has a mangled right index finger to show for it.

Bryant underwent arthroscopic surgery to clean up the knee that came so close to sinking him, and them.

However, surgery to fix the finger would mean such a long rehab, Bryant says he can play with it as it is.

Nevertheless, suggestions that Kobe shouldn’t do this to himself again sound too much like suggestions he’s old.

Asked if he must make choices he once didn’t have to, Bryant answered shortly, “Maybe. I don’t know.”

In other words, Bryant, not Jackson and certainly no one in the media, will decide when he comes out.

Bryant, the most conscientious of athletes, had his surgery on his timetable . . . after returning from the World Cup . . . just as Bynum did.

Bryant is so private, the Lakers didn’t announce his surgery. The exact date isn’t even known. The Times’ Mike Bresnahan reported it went successfully after the fact on July 24 . . . four days before Bynum’s.

Happily for Bryant and the Lakers, his surgery turned out simple.

Finding more damage than expected, Bynum’s surgeon opted to sew cartilage together rather than snip it back, giving ‘Drew a longer rehab but, he hopes, a better knee.

In any case, they’re back and, if not better than ever, it’s a long time until they need to be.