“Don’t hurt yourself,” yelled Kobe Bryant at rookie Jordan Clarkson after the veteran All-Star hit a turnaround jumper during an intra-squad scrimmage.
The Lakers scrimmaged three times on Thursday, with the starting unit winning twice.
Bryant looked like himself on the floor, after missing most of last year with knee and Achilles’ tendon injuries. He certainly sounded like vintage Bryant, judging by the trash talk.
“Don’t play with me,” he jawed with Nick Young, after another Bryant basket. “You ain’t strong enough!”
Young urged the referees, brought in by the team to officiate the scrimmage, not to reward Bryant based on his star status.
“We’re all having fun. We’re competing. We try to push each other,” explained Bryant after practice. “That’s really the key, especially when we’re physically tired.”
Coach Byron Scott has been pushing his team hard through the early days of training camp with a rigorous conditioning program.
Young was the Lakers’ star last season while Bryant was sidelined, at least in terms of braggadocio. He may have met his match in this year’s Bryant.
“He playfully does it, but then, I kind of take it to another level,” Bryant said. “When you’re tired, it’s very easy to kind of go through the motions. Somebody talking to you, you have no choice but to try and perform.”
Bryant has high expectations for Young this season.
“He’s a really, really big piece of this team,” he said.
Scott said he envisions Young coming off the bench, competing for the NBA’s “Sixth Man of the Year” award.
As far as the 22-year old Clarkson, going through his first training camp, Bryant has already started the mentoring process. On Wednesday, the veteran took time after practice to give Clarkson tips on defensive positioning.
“I like Jordan. I think that was a steal of a pick. I’m surprised he slipped in the draft,” Bryant said. “Great pace, great feel for the game. He grasps concepts really well. He can shoot the deep ball. He has a really good floater and can get to the rim.”
The Lakers acquired Clarkson with the 46th overall pick, in a draft-day trade with the Washington Wizards. The rookie has played shooting guard with the second team in scrimmages, along with Jeremy Lin, Julius Randle, Robert Sacre and Young.
The team’s starting five projects to be Steve Nash, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill and Bryant.
Scott is also looking closely at the play of Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington and Ronnie Price. Camp invite Jeremy Tyler also got minutes with the starting group, although he seemed to suffer a leg injury (perhaps hamstring) after slipping in late practice sprints.
Xavier Henry (back spasms, knee) and Ryan Kelly (hamstring) both sat out on Thursday.