- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Several seasons ago, Kobe Bryant approached Nike asking for a more streamlined sneaker that wouldn't weigh him down as much on the court as his traditional high tops, and the company obliged with a low-top alternative.
Bryant announced at the Lakers' annual media day Saturday that he is going with a new less-is-more approach this season, like his sneaker preference. The All-Star guard is electing to not wear a splint on the bothersome right index finger on his shooting hand that suffered from an avulsion fracture and an arthritic knuckle last year.
"If [the finger] gets whacked, maybe a game or so I'll have to put [the splint] on, but for the most part no," Bryant said. "I've been shooting without the tape. My shot feels a lot better. I can follow through with my fingers on the ball and get a better feel for it now than I did last year."
The 15-year veteran and back-to-back Finals MVP chose not to undergo an offseason operation on the finger because the procedure would require a lengthy rehabilitation.
"The surgery that's required for the finger was too extensive, in terms of the recovery," Bryant told ESPNLA.com's Brian and Andy Kamenetzky. "I'd miss a huge chunk of the season and it's just not worth it to do that with a injury that I've played with and won a championship with. It just didn't make sense ... You would have to in essence break it again and put it back together."
Bryant did however have surgery on his right knee in July after needing to have the knee drained in between Games 4 and 5 in the first round of the playoffs against Oklahoma City.
"The knee feels really, really good," said Bryant, who should be ready to play in Los Angeles' first exhibition game against Minnesota on Oct. 4 in London. "That was the injury I was most concerned with, was taking care of the knee. It's feeling strong. I've been training really, really hard getting the stamina back in the leg where I feel like I can sustain that strength throughout the course of the season."
It was welcome injury-related news for the Lakers after it was revealed Saturday that starting center Andrew Bynum would likely miss the first month of the regular season while recovering from right knee surgery of his own.
Reserve forward Luke Walton is also on the mend, attempting a comeback after playing in just 29 of 82 regular season games and 16 of 23 playoff games because of back pain.
"I'm pretty much going into [training camp] as if nothing's wrong and going forward and see how it feels," Walton said. "It feels a lot better. It feels great. I've been working on it all summer -- rehabbing, strengthening exercises. I put together a team of [a] Yoga teacher, Pilates [instructor], back specialist and [have] just been drilling it all summer so I'm excited to see how it holds up.
The NBA announced last week that the guidelines for technical fouls will expand to include "overt" player reactions to referee calls, essentially giving players less leeway when complaining to officials while empowering refs to issue technicals more frequently.
This affects the Lakers because Bryant isn't just one of the game's most prolific scorers; he also picks up more Ts than a professional Scrabble player.
Bryant was whistled for 14 technical fouls last season, fourth most in the league. In 2008-09 he was called for 11 and the season before that he picked up a league-leading 15 technicals. Racking up 16 Ts warrants a one-game suspension by the league.
When asked about the rule change, Bryant said, "I thought it was like that already."
He was partially correct -- the league launched a similar initiative prior to the 2006-07 season before abandoning the enforcement of it early on in the year.
"We really encourage our players to contain themselves," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said about the rule change. "There is a sense that there's much more demonstrative activity on the court in the last 10-15 years then there's been in the past. It's just part of the nature of our society. But, it will work itself out as the season goes forward. I appreciate what the league's trying to do, [but] whether they can get it accomplished or not, I don't understand."
While Jackson didn't have faith in the rule's staying power, he did have faith in his star player being able to adapt to it while it's still a consideration.
"I think he totally understands that he's got a limitation and that's where it's a ceiling and he's capable of handling the ceiling at that point," Jackson said.
Bryant acknowledged he'll have to change how he goes about his business, keeping the rule in mind.
"I'll tell Sasha [Vujacic] to shut the [expletive] up, so I can stop having to go to bat for him [with the referees] all the time," Bryant said with a laugh.
Bryant was later questioned what he thought about the rule again and jokingly quipped back to the reporter, "[Bleep] you."
The Heat is On
The word "Miami" was uttered more times on Saturday than during an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Jersey Shore Season 2 (set in South Beach) combined.
Everyone wanted to know what the defending champions thought about the Miami Heat now that LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade and Las Vegas crowned them the odds-on favorites to win the title.
Derek Fisher, who flirted with taking his talents to South Beach as well this summer was complimentary of the direction the Heat are headed.
"I think they have, not even just a little bit, a lot of pieces that are needed to win a championship," Fisher said.
Still, the five-time champion doesn't feel like the Lakers are threatened by Miami's comeuppance.
"With Phil's experience and myself and Kobe and a lot of our guys -- Lamar, Pau -- we have a lot of guys who have crossed over into another part of their career and with that type of maturity, there's really not much concern about what other people are doing," Fisher said. "The concern for us is within our own locker room and within our own gym.
"Who's the favorite? Well, we're the champ, so we view ourselves as the favorite and I don't think that will ever change as long as we have the guys that we have."
Newly acquired free agent Matt Barnes who played for Florida's other team, Orlando, last season, acknowledged the Heat's presence, but placed his new squad on top.
"They have a very talented team on paper, but the game still has to be played," Barnes said. "It's a long season. This team has won two years in a row and now I'm a part of it, going for number three so it's kind of hard to put anybody ahead of us."
Bryant, for his part, said he was happy for James who he considers a friend from his time as Olympic teammates, but hasn't hypothetically compared his team to the Heat's, telling a reporter, "No, that's your job."
Barnes to Face another Type of Court
Barnes was arrested on Sept. 9 on suspicion of domestic violence and has a court date on Oct. 18, but he said Saturday that he does not anticipate any legal ramifications to derail his season.
"It won't affect my play at all or missing any kind of games," Barnes said. "My date's been set on the 18th of next month and we'll find out what's going on then, but we've been cooperating and everything should be fine. "
Several days after the arrest, Barnes' fiancée, Gloria Govan, issued a statement claiming the accusations against the small forward to be false.
The former UCLA Bruin who is joining his eighth different team in eight seasons in the league said that the Lakers have not administered any disciplinary actions against him following the arrest.
"They just wanted to know if I was going to be able to go to Europe and I told them, 'I'll be there,'" Barnes said.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. http://twitter.com/mcten.