Kobe Bryant looking forward to 2011-12
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Having had several days to let the Dallas Mavericks' unceremonious sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers sink in, Kobe Bryant was able to find a silver lining to having the season end so unexpectedly: He has more time to prepare for next season.
Bryant said his left foot is still swollen from when he turned his ankle in the first round against New Orleans, but he's healthy other than that and ready for an aggressive approach to his offseason regiment.
"This is a good summer for me to train and get strong," Bryant said, speaking after his exit interview Wednesday with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and outgoing coach Phil Jackson. "I haven't [been able to do that] the last two summers. Last year I had [right knee] surgery, the year before that we played deep into June so I didn't have a chance to kind of grind like I would like to, but this summer I have that chance."
Even though Bryant played all 82 games during the regular season and finished fourth in the MVP voting, averaging 25.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, Jackson limited Bryant's playing time in hopes of alleviating some wear and tear on his surgically repaired right knee, bringing his minutes down from 38.8 per game in 2009-10 to 33.9 this season.
Bryant's practice time was also almost completely cut out, and his presence was missed. Andrew Bynum said Tuesday that he believed the biggest contributing factor to the Lakers' demise this season was a lack of intensity in practices.
"I think it played a part in the fact that guys think that they can take days off because I'm not there," Bryant admitted. "It's just like your big brother not being around, you feel like you can do all these sorts of things with the toys and all this other stuff because I'm not on the court with you.
"It's upsetting, it's disappointing to me, because I wasn't able to get out there with them every day, but at the same time, you can't use it as a crutch or an excuse because I wasn't out there."
Bryant, who thought that "fatigue" was the biggest factor in the Lakers' lost season, said he was still able to play how he wanted to play despite recovering from injury to his right knee -- which needed to be drained three times during last season's playoffs --but just not play at his peak ability.
"I felt like I could have definitely played more, played longer, stuff like that," Bryant said. "In the postseason I felt healthy, barring the foot. But this offseason gives me a chance to really go to the [next] level. There's a difference between feeling healthy and feeling as strong as I know I can be."
He expects to return to practice moving forward.
"Next season will be different," Bryant said. "I will have this whole offseason to kind of get strong and this way I can get out there and kick their [behinds] in practice and they'll have no excuses."
Bryant has been playing with a fractured and arthritic right index finger since December 2009, but will not have it surgically repaired in the offseason even with the potentially long layoff with a lockout looming come June 30 when the current collective bargaining agreement expires.
"It takes too much time for that," Bryant said. "It's tough to gauge when the season's going to start and to kind of gamble with that and doing that procedure would take a little too much [risk]."
While finishing this season on May 8 rather than June 17 as the team did last year gives the Lakers more time, losing in the ultimate disgrace of a sweep rather than winning in the ultimate pride of a Game 7 victory gives the team more hunger, according to Bryant.
"Just refocus," Bryant said. "Take this summer. Some guys will rest, some guys will train, some guys will get healthy. Just refocus and come back next year with a good sense of purpose and be ready to go."
He thinks that focus and purpose will have enough impact to change things so that a major roster shuffle will be unnecessary.
"If you're asking me do I believe we can come back and win it again, I absolutely believe that," Bryant said. "In terms of this being the decline of the Lakers, it's nonsense. I remember they had a pretty good era in the '80s, and they didn't win three in a row. They didn't break that team up."
He later added, "If this team came back as is, I think we can win."
As for the lockout, he plans on letting players association president Derek Fisher do the talking. Bryant said he won't comment on the negotiations because "I like getting foul calls."
Bryant reminisced about his time with Jackson and how their relationship grew from Jackson's first stint with the team when he had to "appease the Big Fella [Shaquille O'Neal] and in doing that, a lot of times I was road kill," to the second time around, when "I trusted him more. The first time around, I really didn't." But Byrant expects to keep in touch with Jackson every couple of weeks in the future.
As for Jackson's replacement, Bryant said assistant coach Brian Shaw would be a viable candidate because of his level of "familiarity" with the team and his ability to communicate. Bryant has not been in contact with Lakers management about the coaching search, but emphasized the need to find a coach who will bring a defensive identity as more important than what offense he runs.
Bryant was content to leave the season in the past, describing it as "a wasted year of my life," but he's looking ahead with a new edge.
"What I think about is shutting up those [expletives] talking about I'm done," Bryant said.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.