NEW ORLEANS — Kobe Bryant slung a designer backpack over his shoulders — both of them, it was important to note — and talked about something eminently important to him.
He left a game because of a sore right shoulder from a third-quarter dunk, unable to finish in the fourth after firing up two shots, both with his left hand, in a 96-80 loss Wednesday to the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Lakers said there would be an MRI exam Thursday, but Bryant didn’t seem concerned. He was more interested in discussing his pitch to would-be free agents in July.
“It’s a pretty simple message. It’s the best organization in the world, best brands in the world,” he said, reluctant to name names because of the NBA’s tampering rules. “We win championships. That’s what we do. It would be much more than … Xs and O’s and style of play, things of that nature. There’s no place like winning in Los Angeles, man.”
The last couple of summers have been lean for the Lakers, who lost Dwight Howard for less money to Houston and Pau Gasol for less to Chicago. Then Carmelo Anthony returned to his hometown team.
But Bryant lauded the ability of Lakers General Mitch Kupchak.
“It’s phenomenal, so much so that the league had to protest a trade that he made,” Bryant said, referring to the vetoed Chris Paul deal in 2011. “When you pull that off and save money, what other GM could pull that off? You’ve kind of got to lean on the track record of the front office and the decisions that they make. He makes really solid ones.”
The list of free agents will be strong but without a LeBron James or Kevin Durant. The potential pool could include Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap, Goran Dragic, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gay and Greg Monroe.
The Lakers will have enough money to sign one maximum-level player or two well-above-average free agents.
Meanwhile, there was a game Wednesday and a baseline dunk by Bryant against a surprised Dante Cunningham. But as Bryant said, “I felt fine when I went up, didn’t feel too good when I came down.”
He added that the shoulder “came out a little bit. It’s been bothering me a lot but right now it’s a little achy.”
When Bryant re-entered in the fourth, he quickly made a 14-foot turnaround with his left hand but then airballed an eight-foot hook shot, also with his left. He dribbled and passed almost exclusively with his left hand.
Bryant walked off the court and straight to the locker room after the Lakers called a timeout with 1:09 to play. He didn’t rule himself out of Friday’s game against San Antonio.
“I’ve played with a torn labrum before,” Bryant said, adding he played with a separated shoulder earlier in his career.
Bryant also chafed mildly at some of the recent questioning of his overall health after he sat eight of the last 16 games for “rest” reasons.
“We make a lot of it, but the reality is I’m doing some pretty phenomenal things in 30 minutes [a game],” adding with some colorful language that his body wasn’t that messed up. “I could play every game. It’s just really [Coach Byron Scott’s] call. I’m good either way.”
Bryant had 14 points Wednesday, his first game in six days, but the Lakers, losing their sixth in a row, couldn’t do much better than a 69-68 deficit going into the fourth quarter at Smoothie King Center.
Bryant handed out a career-high 17 assists last Thursday against Cleveland but wasn’t as sharp against New Orleans (two assists, four turnovers), and that was before his shoulder injury.
It almost felt like the game was in Los Angeles.
Earlier in the day, Bryant filmed a scene for a movie with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg called “Daddy’s Home.” Bryant shot it with the two stars in his Lakers warmups at the Pelicans’ arena.
Later, at halftime, fans were encouraged to stay in their seats as Ferrell came out and made a mockery of a halfcourt shooting contest in two takes. After the cameras turned off, Ferrell, a frequent courtside presence at Lakers games, hugged Jordan Hill and Nick Young before leaving the court.
Hill had 15 points and 13 rebounds Wednesday, but Young fell back into his January skid, making three of 11 shots for nine points.
Anthony Davis had 29 points in his return from a toe injury. His future looks bright. It wasn’t nearly as easy to say the same about the Lakers.