As he’s watched Steve Nash throw crisp passes, direct the offense efficiently and take over the ball-handling opportunities, Kobe Bryant admits: “I’m salivating.”
Bryant knows Nash’s presence will provide him easier scoring opportunities. It lessens his workload. It increases Bryant’s chance to collect his sixth championship ring. Even though he’s openly considering retiring once his contract expires after the 2013-14 season, Bryant may feel healthy and energetic enough to keep going because of Nash’s arrival.
Still, there’s one thing about Nash that bothers Bryant, and it involves being passed up for a certain NBA award during the 2005-06 season.
“I tell Steve, you won MVP but I was playing with Smush Parker,” Bryant said before the Lakers’ 93-75 exhibition loss Wednesday to the Portland Trail Blazers at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario. “He’s playing with [Leandro] Barbosa. I’m playing with Smush and Kwame [Brown]. My goodness.”
With that, reporters, including myself, simply teed up some questions for Bryant to whack out of the park. Bryant seemed more than eager to trash former teammates who played with him from 2004 to 2007, when the Lakers missed the playoffs once and lost to Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs twice.
“Smush Parker was the worst,” Bryant said. “He shouldn’t have been in the NBA, but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard. We let him walk on.”
The Lakers’ 2005-06 roster included Brian Cook, Stanislav Medvedenko, Devean George, Chris Mihm, Brown and Parker. One reporter couldn’t resist joking how many observers criticized Bryant for not passing the ball to such teammates.
“Smush Parker, with Tierre Brown as the backup,” said Bryant, laughing. “I’m taking 45 shots a game. What was I supposed to do, pass the ball in to Chris Mihm? Chris Mihm?”
Bryant wasn’t finished. He couldn’t understand how Brown could sign with the Philadelphia 76ers this off-season to a two-year, $6-million deal.
“I don’t know how he convinced Philadelphia to cough up $7 million a year,” said Bryant, slightly inflating Brown’s salary. “They want to lock us out, but they’ll pay him $7 million.”
Another reporter relayed to Bryant that Brown said last year he taught former Lakers center Andrew Bynum “everything he knows.”
“You know what, he may have showed Andrew a couple of things though, especially on screen-and-roll coverages and one-on-one defense. Offensively? No way,” Bryant said. “Kwame, he’s a great defensive player. He’s one of the best defensive big men I’ve ever seen. But in terms of offense, he was challenged.”
Another reporter sarcastically gave Brown credit for at least stepping foot on the court even if his mind wasn’t always there.
“He was present,” Bryant said with a smirk. “He was there.”
“So it was like ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’?” another reporter asked.
Bryant laughed. “Exactly,” he said.
The Lakers’ star appears in a much better mood these days; he can laugh about the bad teams he played on. Now he’s teaming up with Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Every player in the starting lineup brings an elite skill set, including Bryant’s scoring, Nash’s passing, Howard’s post presence, Gasol’s facilitating and Metta World Peace’s defense. As Bryant’s nearing the end of his storied career, it’s clear he seems more at a peace of ease.
That also means Bryant won’t hold back on former and current teammates. As Bryant sat out of Wednesday’s game because of a strained right shoulder, Lakers Coach Mike Brown penciled in Jodie Meeks as his backup and suggested he has the edge over Devin Ebanks at that spot. Bryant wouldn’t buy that premise for a simple reason.
“That’s not fair,” Bryant said. “Jodie has to guard me every damn day in practice. He isn’t looking too good.”
So have you hurt Meeks’ case?
“That’s not fair,” Bryant said. “They have to balance that out. I’ve been murdering him.”
So what are you doing on him?
“I’m kicking his [expletive]” Bryant said with a laugh. He then turned to a quiet Darius Johnson-Odom, who sat a few locker stalls away from Bryant. “Have I not been?” Bryant pressed. “Have I not been?" Johnson-Odom laughed, but didn’t say a word.
Is Meeks at least making shots?
“Not when I’m guarding him,” Bryant said, laughing.
Soon enough, Meeks entered the locker room. His stall was next to Bryant, making for an interesting exchange as reporters asked Meeks about Bryant’s trash talk.
What’s it like to play Bryant every day in practice?
“It’s tough,” Meeks said. “But I have fun.”
How much is Bryant beating you by?
“I have no idea,” Meeks said.
“A lot to a little!” Bryant interjected.
What’s the meanest thing Bryant has said to you?
“That, you can’t print,” Bryant said, with a chuckle.
“We’ll keep that in the family,” Meeks added.
“He’ll have to wait until I retire,” Bryant said.
But until that day comes, it appears Bryant will speak his mind and talk trash along the way.
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