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Bryant: 'There's nothing going on'

3/29/2005 - Los Angeles Lakers

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Drama seems to follow the Los Angeles
Lakers, win or lose.

During the past five years, when the Lakers were winning, there
was always something between Shaq and Kobe, Shaq and Phil or Kobe
and Phil.

Now that Shaquille O'Neal is playing in Miami and Phil Jackson
is out of coaching -- at least for the moment -- the Lakers are Kobe
Bryant's team.

And they're losing. Los Angeles has dropped eight straight, the
second-longest losing streak since moving from Minneapolis to Los
Angeles in 1960.

Bryant was at the center of another controversy Monday, albeit
not of his own doing.

First-year Lakers guard Chucky Atkins was asked before Sunday
night's game against the Philadelphia 76ers what offseason moves
he'd make to improve the team.

"I ain't no GM. Ask Kobe. He's the GM. It's his team," Atkins
said.

The 30-year-old Atkins seemed to backtrack almost immediately.
Following the Lakers' 96-89 loss to the 76ers, he acknowledged that
while confidence and morale were down, team members were "too
professional to point fingers."

Following Monday's practice, Atkins acknowledged it was "very
possible" that what he meant to say wasn't what came out, although
he insisted the reporter questioning him had been trying to get him
to say something negative about Bryant for weeks.

"I don't think you should try to divide my team," Atkins said.
"We're not going to splinter. Kobe's my man. Me and Kobe have
developed a relationship where anything I have to say to him, I can
say to his face. I'm in a no-win situation."

Only Atkins knows his true feelings.

"We're in a bad situation right now," he said. "We know
that."

The Lakers (32-37), who will try to end their current skid on
Tuesday night against the New York Knicks, lost their last 10 games
of the 1993-94 season to finish with a 33-49 record. That was the
last time they failed to qualify for the playoffs, something that
will happen this year barring a complete turnaround in the last 13
games and prolonged slumps by two of the three teams immediately
above them.

Bryant, the NBA's second-leading scorer, supported Atkins.

"We really didn't have much of a conversation [Monday],"
Bryant said. "He was pretty adamant about how it happened, that it
was taken out of context. Everybody here sticks together. We're not
going to let anybody divide us.

"If you guys are here to stir something up, you're not going to
get it out of me. All we want to do is come here, work hard, play
basketball. We had a great day of work. There's nothing going on."

Lakers coach Frank Hamblen smiled when asked about the latest
controversy, mentioning the problems the team had while it was
winning.

"You always expect harmony to some degree," he said. "Guys
aren't going to be best friends. You've got to work together.
Anything that's said in the paper is probably out of
frustration."