Meeting with Bryant is set up

Updated: July 1, 2004, 10:11 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers believe they have a good shot at signing Kobe Bryant and will do whatever possible at landing the plum of the free agent crop.

General manager Elgin Baylor said Thursday a meeting has been set up with Bryant, who opted out of his contract two weeks ago to become an unrestricted free agent after playing eight years with the Lakers.

"We wouldn't be wasting our time if we didn't think so," Baylor said when asked if he believes the Clippers have a legitimate chance of signing Bryant.

"It will be soon, I can't tell you exactly when," Baylor said regarding a meeting between the parties. "We intend to talk to Kobe to go through all specifics, see what he has in mind. He's friendly with a couple players here. He likes our team from what I understand from his agent. We're willing to do whatever it takes to get Kobe."

Teams were allowed to begin speaking with free agents at 12:01 a.m. EDT on Thursday. Free agents can't sign until July 14.

Baylor said on a conference call that he's contacted representatives of other free agents to inquire about their services and received calls to gauge possible interest the Clippers, NBA doormats for years, might have in other available players.

But Bryant is clearly at the top of their wish list, as is the case with several teams.

Baylor laughed when asked if Bryant was the biggest name the Clippers have ever pursued.

"No question, no doubt about it," Baylor said.

Bryant turns 26 shortly before going on trial Aug. 27 in Colorado, where he faces a felony sexual assault charge. Baylor said that had no bearing on the Clippers' decision to pursue him.

The Lakers can offer Bryant a seven-year contract worth more than $135 million, while other teams can offer six years at around $100 million.

Baylor left no doubt the Clippers will offer the maximum.

Baylor also said his team has a very good relationship with Bryant's agent, Rob Pelinka, who represents three current Clippers -- Corey Maggette, Chris Kaman and Keyon Dooling.

The Lakers acquired Bryant for Vlade Divac in 1996 after the then-Charlotte Hornets took him with the 13th overall pick in the NBA draft. Bryant went straight from high school to the NBA and has been one of its top players for several years.

"He's certainly a great, great player, there's no doubt about his talent," said Baylor, a Hall of Famer. "He's a player we'd love to have. I think he might make a decision sooner than people think. It's up to Kobe. He's going to make that decision."

When asked if the Clippers are more attractive than other teams, Baylor replied: "He loves the city. We have a lot of young talent and are getting better all the time. He likes our team."

The Clippers have won just one playoff series, in 1976 when they were based in Buffalo, and have made the playoffs only three times since -- in 1992, 1993 and 1997.

But in Maggette and Elton Brand, the Clippers have two outstanding young players, and believe they picked up a future star when they took 18-year-old point guard Shaun Livinston with the fourth overall pick in the draft last week.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press