EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP)—Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers can only chuckle when they acknowledge the story line for the upcoming NBA season.
At least at the start, it’s all about South Beach, not Hollywood.
And that’s just fine with the NBA finals MVP and his supporting crew, who reported for training camp Saturday after an extra-short summer. It’s not often that a two-time champion team returning every significant contributor isn’t the odds-on favorite the following season.
In fact, the Lakers are almost looking forward to moving to the fringe of the spotlight that’s shining directly on the Miami Heat.
“There will be times when they’re the toast of the town and everybody is focused on them, and that’s fine,” point guard Derek Fisher said, smiling. “With the type of maturity we have, there’s not really that much concern about what other people are doing.”
The Lakers will have enough challenges simply getting back into form, incorporating several new players and surviving a European tour after perhaps the shortest possible offseason. After winning Game 7 of the NBA finals on June 17, they’re back at their training complex several days earlier than normal to prepare for games in London and Barcelona early next month.
“We joke about it—the reward for being the NBA champion is you get to start earlier than everybody else!” Bryant said. “Congratulations! It’s surreal that we’re back here already. Seems like the parade was just yesterday.”
The next parade got tougher to plan when LeBron James and Chris Bosh elected to join Dwyane Wade with the Heat. The Lakers watched the offseason saga along with their fans and the oddsmakers who immediately installed the South Beach superstars as title favorites.
The Lakers aren’t insulted. They’re as curious as anybody to see if Miami will coalesce into a great team.
“I actually like the whole thing,” said center Andrew Bynum, who revealed he’s unlikely to play until late November while recovering from offseason knee surgery. “I kind of like that a player has that kind of power. A couple of guys can get together and say they want to play together, even guys like that. I think it’s great for the game.”
Lamar Odom sees the Heat juggernaut from a similar perspective, figuring the Miami circus will stoke overall fan interest in basketball this fall.
“I think it’s good for the league,” said Odom, who spent the past two weeks resting after winning a world championship with the U.S. team in Istanbul. “With the new collective bargaining agreement coming up, I think it’ll help. It makes things a little more competitive, which you want. It helps the story line of the season. We don’t want them to be too good, though. We want them to be good enough.”
Bryant had nothing but praise for the Miami superstars’ decision, and he even jumped to the defense of James, his teammate on the U.S. team at the Beijing Olympics.
“I’m just excited for him, because he seems to be happy with his decision,” Bryant said. “My sentiments don’t go beyond that. … All the other stuff, I didn’t like, because everybody was coming down on him.”
Bryant used the offseason to heal, getting cleanup surgery on his troublesome right knee and resting his arthritic index finger on his shooting hand. The finger still bothers Bryant a bit, but the recovery time from surgery to repair it is far too long for his tastes.
“It’s better than it was last year,” Bryant said. “If I get hit on it, it hurts for a minute, and then it goes away. For the type of injury that it is, knowing I can play with it, (surgery) doesn’t make any sense. I’ve been practicing without the tape on it, and I can follow through on my shot, no problem.”
Bynum has a problem: He had his injured knee drained twice during the playoffs and a third time after the season, but then postponed surgery so he could make a trip to Europe and South Africa, visiting Germany and Spain before attending the World Cup with Bryant and Gasol.
“It was amazing, because I never saw to much emotion going through people,” Bynum said.
Bynum wrapped up the trip with a four-day safari. Coach Phil Jackson praised the center for indulging in life experiences that aren’t always available to a 23-year-old who joined the workforce straight out of high school.
Bynum said he delayed the surgery until late July because everybody thought his recovery would last no more than eight weeks, but his surgeon changed plans and did a more thorough procedure that requires more down time. Bynum can’t put any undue stress on his leg for another four weeks.
The Lakers have 18 players in camp and 14 likely to make the team, including second-round draft picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, who seemed a bit star-struck while walking around the complex in their gold Lakers uniforms.
And the Lakers have the full attention of Ron Artest, who capped his first NBA championship run by cramming an absurd amount of trips, charity work and general goofiness into his three-month break. Artest, who’s now wearing No. 15, also was back in the gym one day after Los Angeles finished off the Celtics.
Count him among the NBA fans who are eager to see what the Heat can do when they visit Staples Center on Christmas.
“They’ve got a great team, but Boston also made some good trades, good signings,” Artest said. “There’s Orlando, and obviously Oklahoma is still good. (Kevin) Durant is the second-best player in the NBA. … It’s going to be a great season. There’s great teams all across the board.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)