Kobe likes roster makeup, says young Lakers gained experience in playoffs

Updated: June 21, 2008, 1:30 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Last offseason, Kobe Bryant was unhappy. He wanted the Los Angeles Lakers to trade him and questioned the team's efforts to build a championship-caliber roster.

Kobe Bryant
AP Photo/Bill SikesKobe Bryant, shown Tuesday after the Lakers were finished off in the NBA Finals, said the team's playoff run and loss to the Celtics were valuable learning experiences for the Lakers' young roster.
But now that the Lakers' season has ended with a runner-up finish in the NBA Finals, Bryant says he's satisfied with the team the Lakers have now and with their future prospects, according to Los Angeles-area media reports.

"I'm comfortable with what we have," he said Thursday after an exit interview with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and coach Phil Jackson. "Whatever Mitch decides to do, he decides to do. It's more of a relaxing summer for me because I know we have an opportunity to win. It's exciting.

"We know we got close and came up a little bit short. I'm excited about the opportunity to get back next year if we're fortunate enough and have a different result."

Last season, when the Lakers' season ended with a first-round playoff exit, Bryant was upset and publicly demanded a trade. He questioned whether the team had lived up to its promise to him when he re-signed that it would build a roster capable of winning an NBA title. And he was videotaped criticizing Kupchak and teammate Andrew Bynum.

Bryant was booed during the 2007-08 home opener and a trade seemed likely. But the Lakers, spurred by Bynum and then by midseason acquisition Pau Gasol, finished the season two wins shy of an NBA title, and Bryant won his first league MVP award.

While Bryant has been happy with the team's play, the Lakers may end up juggling their lineup next year to accomodate for Bynum's return. Jackson told the Los Angeles Times on Friday that when Bynum returns to the lineup, the Lakers will be "a different team entirely."

The newspaper reports that the roster change could move starting power forward Lamar Odom to small forward, giving the Lakers a frontline of Odom, Gasol (at forward) and Bynum (at center).

"It's a real issue," Jackson said. "We think we can do it. We think people will have to sacrifice."

Kupchak told the newspaper the team will be creative in its rotation next season, including possibly moving Odom to play guard and moving Bryant to small forward.

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"It could be the longest and biggest frontcourt in the NBA in many, many years," Kupchak said. "It is a team that would be very talented, very long and versatile, and I think training camp would be an important time to test out what [Jackson] has done during the summer."

Kupchak said he also expects the team to retain free agents Ronny Turiaf and Sasha Vujacic, but says the Lakers are planning on a quiet summer in the free agency market.

"We're well over the cap; we're well over the luxury-cap threshold," he said. "I've looked at the free-agent list. We've ranked them ... but the bottom line is, it's not a very strong unrestricted group of free agents."

On Thursday, Kobe indicated that he's confident the Lakers, a relatively young roster, can improve.

"Not to say that the loss doesn't sting, because it does and it will, but I get back up pretty quickly and start thinking about revenge," he said. "I think what it does for us, is it teaches us how to win. The hunger was there, but Boston's experience wore us down a little bit.

"We have a team here that's very good," Bryant continued. "Boston played better, they played more physical than we were. But at the same time, you look around at our roster, they're young kids.

"We managed to do something that I don't think anybody expected us to do. It's a great learning opportunity for them at a young age to come back next year, knowing what to expect, knowing how to perform and what the goal is in mind. We'll be fine."

Kupchak told the Times that Bryant appeared "chipper" when they met on Thursday.

"It was certainly different than last season's exit meeting," Kupchak said.

And Bryant -- who will join Team USA next week in Las Vegas for a minicamp -- said he won't be giving Kupchak any more roster advice.

"You're all trying to see if I'm going to do Mitch's job for him this summer," he said. "I'm not. I leave it up to him. He's done a great job of building this team."