Lakers express optimism for Bryant's future

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
3:03
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Lakers host the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday after coming off their worst loss in history to the silver and black, a 34-point drubbing, last week. After combining with the Spurs to win nine of the NBA's 12 championships earned from 1999-2010, the Lakers have now lost their last six games against San Antonio, dating back to last season’s sweep in the first round of the playoffs.

“It’s weird,” Pau Gasol said Monday of the shift in the balance of power in the rivalry. “I’m sure it feels weird to them as well to see the team that we have out there and where we’re at in recent years, it’s very different. So, it’s a different scenario for sure and we’re not at the top end of the stick right now. But better times will come.”

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe Lakers think Kobe Bryant's age won't be a factor next year when he returns from a knee injury.
Gasol shared the same optimism for Kobe Bryant's future.

Bryant was ruled out for the rest of the season last week because of a fracture in his left knee.

“He feels very confident that he’s going to be back at the best level that he’s ever been,” said Gasol. “So, you got to go with what he says.”

Gasol admitted that there will be speculation about just how effective Bryant can be going forward, considering he has already missed so much time and he will turn 36 years old in August.

“There’s always that question mark,” Gasol said. “I think it’s a fair doubt. But he’s the one that has to do the work and prove it and then we’ll all see.”

Gasol said it was understandable that Bryant put the screws to Lakers management last week in expecting a quick turnaround.

“His ideal scenario is not being on a team that (says), ‘OK, let’s see what happens. Let’s be patient. Let’s rebuild and let’s get a couple of young players and go from there,’” said Gasol, who will become a free agent this summer. “That doesn’t bring you championships. That doesn’t make you win -- in the short term at least, which is what him and I am very focused on. He is tied in the next two years here with a great position, great contract. I’m free. So we’re in a different position and I’ll evaluate my options when I have them.”

Nick Young, who grew up in L.A. idolizing Bryant, who is seven years his senior, did not expect Bryant to play in only six games this season following his torn Achilles.

"Honestly, I thought he was going to come back strong," Young said. "Especially, he had all the media and the rain and thunder and all that. Nobody seen Kobe getting hurt again. I know I didn’t. I know it was tough for him, it was tough for all of us to see that."

Count Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni as someone counting on a bigger contribution from Bryant in 2013-14.

"There’s a lot of things that happened that we were hoping would turn out different," D'Antoni said. "To make the playoffs we said we would have to have Kobe and (Steve) Nash to have pretty good years and it didn’t work out."

D'Antoni believes Bryant's comeback next season will work out, however.

'I think he’ll bounce back," D'Antoni said. "He’s 35 years old, he’s not old old. So, it’s a challenge for him, but there’s no reason that he won’t be back at a level that is really, really good in this league.

"He’ll find a way to be one of the best in the league."

Young wasn't quite as definitive in his faith in Bryant's chances.

"We’ll see how he comes back," Young said. "He probably needed this rest. He’s been playing 18 long years with no break, so it was time for him to get a little break."

Even though Bryant hasn't played since Dec. 17, he hasn't given the team a break from his sarcastic personality. Young said that Bryant is still making his presence felt, in his own way.

“He talks trash to me a lot,” Young said. “He says, ‘I don’t talk to players whose teams are under (.500 by) 20 games,’ and all that. But that’s Kobe being Kobe.”

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
24.6 5.0 1.4 35.4
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.3
AssistsK. Bryant 5.0
StealsK. Bryant 1.4
BlocksE. Davis 1.2