Lakers’ prospects look stronger, but they won’t say it

The Lakers are clearly favored to win the Western Conference thanks to Oklahoma City’s stunning trade of guard James Harden.

Just don’t tell them.

“Let’s not fall into that stupidity from our end,” Pau Gasol said.

As if expectations of the Lakers couldn’t get any larger, they just did.

Oklahoma City broke up the core that went to the NBA Finals last season, concluding that its small-market budget couldn’t afford another large contract in addition to ones given to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in recent years.

So the Thunder sent Harden to Houston for oft-injured shooting guard Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb and three future draft picks.

Durant assessed Saturday’s trade with a one-word post on his Twitter account: “Wow.”

Dwight Howard was slightly more analytical a day later.

“He was a valuable piece in Oklahoma and I think they’re going to miss him a lot,” the Lakers center said.

Harden, 23, averaged 16 points as the Thunder beat the Lakers in five games in last season’s Western Conference semifinals. Harden was in the last year of his contract and reportedly turned down a four-year extension worth $52 million.

“I guess Oklahoma figured if he wasn’t happy with the offer they made him, they had to get something in return while they could. Surprising, still, nevertheless,” Gasol said.

It was probably too late, but Gasol tried to turn attention away from the Lakers as West favorites.

“We need to focus on what we have here, get our guys healthy, see if Dwight can play consistently with his back,” he said. “Let’s see if we can get Kobe [Bryant] back from his injury. That’s a concern.”

Martin, 29, averaged 17.1 points last season but missed large gaps of playing time four of the last five years because of injuries.

Bryant not ready

The days are flying by, the Lakers down to one full day of practice before their season opener Tuesday against Dallas.

Will Bryant play in it?

“I have my doubts,” Gasol said. “He hasn’t been able to practice for six days. He’s been off that foot for six days. It’s no joke. I don’t remember the last time he took that many days off from exercising.”

Bryant sustained a strained right foot Oct. 21 after tripping over Sacramento forward Thomas Robinson while cutting to the basket in an exhibition game.

Bryant was having a solid exhibition season before sitting out the last two games. He averaged 20.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

“He’s been down because he can’t get out there and practice,” Howard said.

Bryant has not talked to reporters since the night he was injured.

Metta World Peace was the voice of optimism for the Lakers.

“Every time he’s hurt, he always plays, he always comes through. We know him for that, the fans know him for that,” World Peace said. “I could see him definitely playing.”

World Peace ready?

World Peace is putting reporters on notice. He wants some recognition.

“I should have made the all-defense team last year probably and the year before that, but the media picks that,” he said Sunday, predicting personal greatness in the near future. “This year, my defense is way better than last year.”

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan