Another Cook update

The Lakers and Brian Cook agreed on a three-year, $10.5 million contract extension just before the start of Tuesday’s game. Cook will have a player option for the third year.

Cook’s agent Mark Bartelstein had said there would be no deal earlier in the day but things changed at the last minute.

“Both sides made some changes right at the very end and we found a number we both could agree on,” Bartelstein said.

Cook signed the contract in the minutes before tipoff.

Cook update

The Lakers were unable to agree to a contract extension Tuesday with forward Brian Cook, who will become a restricted free agent at season’s end. Cook’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, said the two sides weren’t “light years apart” on a deal but weren’t going to come to an agreement.

“What made sense for us didn’t make sense for them,” Bartelstein said, “and what made sense for them didn’t make sense for us.”

The Lakers will retain the right to match any offer Cook receives next summer.

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Monday report

It was worth going to Jerry Buss’ ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame just to see the look on Phil Jackson’s face when Snoop Dogg arrived and when Paris Hilton somehow managed to slide into the space next to him and Jeanie Buss.

Tom Arnold got some laughs when he talked about Buss’ philanthropic work over the years, then singled out the “19- to 25-year-old” women he helped out with “minor surgeries” over the years.

There were also some very generous speeches. Magic Johnson said he wouldn’t be the businessman he is today without Buss. Paula Abdul thanked Buss for being “the man who I can honestly say gave me my career” back when she was a Laker girl.

Jeanie Buss talked about her dad as being a pioneer in selling the naming rights to the Forum and in building the first generation of club seats now standard in arenas. He also decided to televise the Lakers’ home games, when conventional wisdom held that doing so would hurt attendance.

“I just increased the capacity of the Forum tenfold,” Jerry Buss said, as his daughter recounted, “which means more people can enjoy Lakers games.”

Jeanie also saluted her dad for being named the World Poker Tour rookie of the year in his 70s.

Jackson was the last to speak and said of Buss, “During his tenure, what’s remarkable is he’s always kept the idea that the fans own the team. It belongs to the fans and he’s always recognized that about the community.”

There was a benefit Jackson saw as well in having his players attend the ceremony, which brought together the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy: “I think it brought some sense of pride to our players and that’s good for them.”
Continue reading “Monday report” »

Sunday report

You’ve got to love covering a team where the day before the season starts, you’re figuring out how best to get to Hollywood and Highland because the owner of the team is getting a star on the Walk of Fame.

Magic Johnson, Phil Jackson and Jeanie Buss are all scheduled to speak as Jerry Buss is honored Monday. Snoop Dogg and Jerry West are two of the guests of honor. That’s a conversation not to be missed, if it ever happens.

We got the chance to sit down on Sunday with Jerry Buss and talk about all things Lakers. At one point, Buss even talked about the possibility of playing an exhibition game at the Forum in the future because he misses the old building.

There’s a ton of stuff that’s not going to make Monday’s paper. We’ll try to get it in here instead.

Buss on Kobe and Phil’s relationship: “Im very pleased with the total closeness of Phil and Kobe right now. Thats a beauty to watch at practice. I think thatll carry right over to the season. Theres a big mutual admiration society going on there.”

Buss on his relationship with Kobe: “I think my relationship with Kobe is closer now than it ever has been. . . .Hes a very cordial guy. Hes not withdrawn as he was in the beginning. Its fun to be around him now. He talks a lot of basketball. Its fun to listen to him.

Buss on ceding more control to his son Jim: “Ill give Jimmy more and more decisions every few months from here on out. But Ill always be right there by his side to make sure that Im in agreement, lets put it that way.

Buss on Lamar Odom: I believe Lamar could be as good as he wants to be. He comes within one or two statistics half the time of having a triple-double. You have to wonder if he wanted to do it – – just to get one more assist or another rebound or something – – and finish out the year with about 40 triple-doubles. Then I think everybody would know what Lamar Odom is about.

Buss on the Clippers’ success: “They have terrific material, no doubt. I think we figured out that they had (lottery picks 18 of 20 years), so its not a big surprise that they would eventually get some material. But it does surprise me that they kept it. Thats certainly a change in philosophy and probably a welcome one to the fans of Los Angeles.

Buss on Phil Jackson having a role with the Lakers after he is done coaching: Right now, I think well talk to him about extending the coaching (contract). When you begin to try to project four or five years out, it gets pretty tough. I really cant comment on it.

Buss on watching Shaq and Kobe bury the hachet before last January’s game at Staples Center: “I would love to have had them bury it while they were here. I dont know how everybody else felt about it, but that last year they were together was really painful for me, to watch teammates not be teammates.

Buss on Red Auerbach: “He was a psychology master. He just set you right up. I think that was very effective, the times that he beat the Lakers, because I think a lot of times the Lakers had the best material. But Auerbach was the deciding factor. Youve really got to hand to this guy. Fortunately, I had the chance to talk to him many many times in the early 80s. So I knew one of the legends.

Here’s the story for Monday, followed by another from practice:

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

There is a part of Jerry Buss that can remember marveling as he walked down Hollywood Boulevard as a younger man. There is a part of him as well that can remember setting out to build a basketball team that encompassed everything great about Los Angeles.

Both parts will come together today as Buss, entering his 27th season as owner of the Lakers, will be honored with the 2,323rd star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions in helping build the Prime Ticket television network.

That the Lakers have become almost as synonymous as the movie and television stars in the citys identity was not lost on Buss. One day after he is honored at the corner of Hollywood and Highland, the Lakers will open another season at Staples Center.

“I guess this to me is a vindication of the fact I was able to do that, Buss said, “and it makes me very happy.

In a half-hour interview Sunday with reporters at his home in Playa del Rey, Buss talked about the future of the franchise and offered his answer to the question he is most often asked, namely when the Lakers will win another championship.

“I think to be a championship team, youve got to have three really great players, and probably one at each position – – guard, forward and center, Buss said. “That seems to be the best formula. Now you say: How far can Kwame (Brown) come or will (Andrew) Bynum be that missing ingredient.

Buss was referring to the Lakers two biggest projects, both of whom happen to be centers. Brown was a failed former No. 1 overall pick during his time in Washington; Bynum was selected out of high school by the Lakers in the 2005 NBA Draft.

“With Kobe (Bryant) and Lamar (Odom), Buss said, “I think weve got enough ingredients that if we get the dominating center, I think we could win it.

Buss, 73, credited his son Jim, the teams vice president of player personnel, with being the greatest advocate for drafting Bynum when others in the front office were in favor of Channing Frye.

“I think you can lay it at his doorstep the fact that we gambled and took Bynum, Buss said. “He was the one out of all of us that said, `Hey, lets not fool around. Weve got to go with this kid.’

Buss said he would continue to bring more decisions to his son in the coming months “until hes making all of them. He added that he does not foresee a scenario in which ownership of the Lakers would not transfer to his children.

As for the Lakers last dominating center, Buss made clear that “there was nothing ever personal with me and Shaquille ONeal, who helped lead the Miami Heat to last seasons championship.

Buss said the Lakers would continue to pursue their goal of signing a big-name free agent. The Lakers would not have the salary-cap space to do so, however, until the summer of 2008 at the earliest.

Another problem has been that nearly every top young free agent – – from Yao Ming to Amare Stoudemire to LeBron James – – has opted to sign an extension with the team that drafted them.

The strategys not dead, Buss said. “It just means that were not going to put all the eggs in that basket as perhaps we did.

Buss praised general manager Mitch Kupchak for doing an “absolutely incredible job, especially in finding players with late first- and second-round draft picks, and said he would talk to coach Phil Jackson about extending his contract past the 2007-08 season.

If he wants to coach longer, Buss said, “then well certainly want to have him.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

What looked like a starting five for the Lakers was on the court scrimmaging at the end of practice Sunday. Wearing the purple jerseys were Smush Parker, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, Andrew Bynum and a certain superstar guard testing his right knee.

Two days before the season opener, Kobe Bryant was figuring out just how much he could “trust his knee. He compared the process to dipping a toe in the water to see how cold it was and declared his knee better Sunday than the day before.

“I think its the best Ive scrimmaged, Bryant said. “I scrimmaged like this a couple practices ago that we had here (at Staples Center). But it was much stronger today.

“I was able to actually jump and try to contest a couple rebounds, which is good. Its still sore, though, but its good that I was able to explode a little bit today.

The Lakers havent determined whether Bryant will play Tuesday against Phoenix, but the sight of him fighting for a rebound with forward Brian Cook, then rising again to put back the ball was encouraging.

For the time being, Bryant will rely more on his outside shot and less on his quickness. He has had trouble turning the corner and accelerating off the knee. How much Bryant would be able to play Tuesday is another question.

“Hell let me know as to how it goes out there, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “Hes by his own admission not sharp. Hes not making great plays or passes yet. His influence and athleticism on the floor is felt. We know that.

“I asked him if he was OK after being out there on the floor for an hour and a half, two hours almost, and he felt comfortable. It looked like conditioning-wise, he was in pretty good shape this time.

Remembering Red: Even into the final year of his life, former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach was taking shots at Jackson, criticizing the only other coach to have won nine NBA championships of “picking his spots in comments last November.

A day after Auerbach died at age 89, Jackson remembered him for setting “a standard that people wanted to achieve in this league and fought to try and duplicate. Auerbach was part of 16 Celtics championship teams as a coach and executive in his career.

“He was a fierce competitor. That Ill grant him, Jackson said. “I will say one thing that my mentor (former New York Knicks coach) Red Holzman turned to me after we won the Eastern Conference championship in 73 and said in reference to the Boston Celtics, `Theres sometimes you think good overcomes evil, and this is one of those times.

Jackson was asked if he was bothered that Auerbach never gave him his proper due.

“Thats not true at all, Jackson said. “Red and I had a conflict always because I was a New York Knick. So it was just the rivalry. Thats the way Red was. It was a rivalry thing. And its an honor that he had that kind of an attitude, actually. And its an honor to be named in the same breath when people talk about championships.

Roster moves: The Lakers have until 3 p.m. today to reduce their roster to the NBA maximum of 15 players. One consideration is the health of veteran guard Aaron McKie, who injured his back in the preseason and hasnt played or practiced since.

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Saturday report

It’s three days before opening night and nobody can say for sure if Kobe Bryant will play. Phil Jackson’s words Saturday suggested that Bryant will be debuting his new No. 24. The sight of Bryant on the bench at the end of practice with two ice bags wrapped around his knee would suggest nothing’s guaranteed.

Here’s one quote from Jackson about Bryant I couldn’t get in the story:

“We know that theres going to be some limitations to what he can do, Jackson said. “Thats a choice he has to make. Hes been training, hes been working hard on it. Its almost four months (since the July 15 surgery).

“This is a normal injury where guys will say this is a `month-out injury. Its been twice that to three times that long for him to recover from it. We really have to let him have his head on this.

Shammond Williams was back practicing Saturday after missing much of the preseason with an abdominal injury.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

The questions about his availability for the Lakers season opener have grown so inevitable, Kobe Bryant joked Saturday about talking to reporters while wearing a shirt with a daily update on his right knee.

There has been no decision made about whether or not Bryant will play Tuesday against Phoenix, although there were clues on both sides with a little more than 72 hours to go until tipoff.

Described as the “irreplaceable part by coach Phil Jackson, Bryant went through the first 90 minutes of practice, reported soreness in the knee, and watched from the sidelines as his teammates finished without him.

“Well just take it day by day, Bryant said. “Its kind of frustrating because every day it kind of varies.

Not soon after, Jackson revealed that Bryant has told him he intends to play Tuesday. And Jackson said he would defer to Bryant in making that decision after talking with the training staff.

“He felt like he could get that done, Jackson said. “I just feel I have to let him have his (say) on this.

The Lakers have listed Bryant as questionable to doubtful, though Jackson described that as being a “disclaimer.

Jackson has targeted the third week of November, when the Lakers have a four-day break in games, for getting back centers Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm from injury and moving forward with a core unit the rest of the season.

Long road: Jackson said he will be able to coach in Tuesdays opener, although he did not sound optimistic about making the trip for Wednesdays game at Golden State.

“I dont know about that, said Jackson, who underwent hip-replacement surgery Oct. 3 and continues to walk with a cane. “Im still having a little bit of trouble getting a shoe on and a sock on that one leg.

“But my therapys coming along great. The last week Ive made giant strides. So in three days, I could be in a position where I feel much more comfortable.’

Assistant coach Kurt Rambis would fill in if Jackson did not feel comfortable enough to travel. The Lakers also will play on the road next Sunday against Seattle.

In the glare: The Lakers practiced Saturday at Staples Center to get used to a special lighting system they will debut Tuesday. The lighting is designed to draw more attention to the floor and bring a feel to the game like the old Forum.

“It puts the focus on the court, Bryant said. “It gives it more of a magical feel, more energy, more intensity.

Tim Harris, the Lakers senior vice president for business operations, said owner Jerry Buss has wanted the change for years. Jackson added that he liked the “stage presence the lights helped create.

The Lakers cannot keep the lights up for more than Tuesdays game because of structural concerns at Staples Center. They would consider making a permanent change if fan feedback supports the new lights.

New feel: Although he won money from Lamar Odom by hitting a half-court shot at the end of practice, Vladimir Radmanovic said his injured shooting hand has forced him to change his entire game.

“Im just trying to pretend like I was never a shooter and its really hard, Radmanovic said. “Your muscles have a memory. You dont even think when you get on the court. It just comes automatically out of you. Im trying to put that aside.

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Friday report

The news is probably more significant that the Lakers exercised the fourth-year option in Sasha Vujacic’s contract than that they exercised the third-year option in Andrew Bynum’s contract. When it happens on Bynum’s 19th birthday, however, the story’s going to be written a little differently.

It’s a nice vote of confidence for Vujacic, who endured a terrible rookie season in which he played in only 35 games, made barely a quarter of his shots and struggled to prove himself to coaches Rudy Tomjanovich and Frank Hamblen.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak spoke positively about Vujacic’s size, his outside shot and his ability to be a pesky defender. Where Vujacic has to improve, Kupchak said, is in continuing to get stronger in the weight room and making himself more of a threat to drive to the basket on offense.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

The timing was too perfect for Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak not to surprise center Andrew Bynum on his 19th birthday Friday with the news that the team would exercise the option in Bynums contract for the 2007-08 season.

Even though the Lakers took the day off, Kupchak had Bynum stop by his office at the teams practice facility, where he presented the contract paperwork along with a cupcake as a group gathered for the singing of “Happy Birthday.

“Its a good birthday present, Kupchak said, “and definitely something he earned.

The Lakers normally would have waited until Tuesdays deadline to exercise the option, but Kupchak said the decision was made weeks ago. The Lakers also exercised the 2007-08 option in guard Sasha Vujacics contract Friday.

“It was a good day for them, Kupchak said. “They both seemed appreciative.

Bynum was part of the NBAs first draft class to have only the first two years of their rookie contracts guaranteed. He will make $2.17 million next season, with the Lakers holding another option for the 2008-09 season.

For his part, Vujacic had his hard work over the summer rewarded. Instead of playing for Slovenia in the world championships, Vujacic opted to work out at the Lakers facility and stay in close contact with the team.

He reported to training camp with a more muscular build and was one of the Lakers best guards during the preseason. Vujacic averaged 10.8 points and connected on 21 of 42 shots in five games.

“My goal coming to the Lakers was to become a starting point guard one day for them, Vujacic said. “Im going to continue working hard, do what I am asked to do, follow the coaches instructions and try to get better.

Vujacic, who wont turn 23 until March 7, will make $1.75 million next season. If the Lakers dont sign him to a contract extension after this season, Vujacic would become a restricted free agent in July 2008.

Bynum, meanwhile, is expected to start at Tuesdays opener as a result of injuries to Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm.

He had more turnovers (four) than points (two) in the Lakers first exhibition game Oct. 10 in Fresno but finished the preseason by totaling 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists Thursday against Denver.

“My opinion about Andrew has not wavered at all, Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis said after the game. “I think Andrew is going to be a terrific ballplayer in this league.

“It still may take a couple, three years, but I think down the road, the Lakers have a real fine player on their hands because he likes to play at both ends of the court.

The Lakers have asked Bynum to run the floor hard and post up early in possessions. He also has shot free throws with greater confidence than his rookie season, making 17 of 22 (77.3 percent) this month.

As for his birthday plans, Bynum said he was considering staying home and getting some sleep.

Injury update: Kobe Bryant was at the Lakers facility Friday to receive treatment on his right knee. He took a couple of jumpers but will continue to be listed as questionable to doubtful for Tuesdays game against Phoenix.

One concern for both Bryant and Phil Jackson is the prospect of Wednesdays game at Golden State. Bryant does not want to play with limitations in the second of back-to-back games while Jackson is not yet sure if he can travel after hip-replacement surgery.

Now they count

Some odds and ends as the Lakers wrap up the preseason with a 4-4 record:

One of the things keeping Phil Jackson from committing 100 percent to coaching in Tuesdays opener is the prospect of coaching Wednesday night on the road at Golden State.

Jackson doesnt want to return to the job unless it’s for good after undergoing hip-replacement surgery. He didnt make the drive to Anaheim for Thursdays exhibition game and might not be far enough along in his recovery to fly.

The Lakers are looking into ways to make travel easier on Jackson but the bottom line is that he is going to have to sit through charter flights and bus rides the next couple of months.

* * *

Its worth remembering what Andrew Bynum did in the Lakers first exhibition game to measure just how far he came in a few short weeks.

Bynum finished with two points and four turnovers in 18 minutes against Utah in Fresno, losing the ball twice as Derek Fisher simply stole it out of his hands.

Compare that to Bynums 23-point, seven-rebound, five-assist game against Denver. He outplayed about $130 million worth of forwards in Nene and Kenyon Martin on Thursday in Anaheim.

Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis said Bynum is benefiting from being so unknown to opposing teams. But Rambis also could not have given a stronger endorsement of his (now) 19-year-old big man.

“My opinion about Andrew has not wavered at all, Rambis said. “I think Andrew is going to be a terrific ballplayer in this league.

“It still may take a couple, three years, but I think down the road the Lakers have a real fine player on their hands because he likes to play at both ends of the court.

In the third quarter, Bynum got more emotional than he has shown in his career. He had position and Sasha Vujacic could have passed him the ball. When Vujacic didnt throw it, Bynum could be heard yelling, “Get me the (expletive) ball.

What did assistant coach Brian Shaw yell at Vujacic during the next timeout? “Get him the (expletive) ball.

Rambis also revealed that the Lakers coaches have told Bynum that his first priority whenever he catches the ball is to look for teammates. He found Lamar Odom for a couple of 3-pointers in the first quarter.

* * *

You can scratch McDonalds off the list of potential endorsement deals for Bynum. He said after the game that part of the reason hes playing better is because he has taken nutrition more seriously this season.

That means no more McDonalds and more of his mothers cooking. Bynum said he watched the documentary “Super Size Me and that changed his thinking.

“Actually, you feel a huge difference, Bynum said. “Youre not as sluggish as you would be. Im just going out there and playing a little bit faster and quicker.’

* * *

Odom was asked about how little the Lakers seem to hesitate in getting the ball to Bynum.

“You have to, Odom said. “He positions himself so well. It just so happens that he works every day with the best center of all-time. So hes going to get better.

Odom was talking about Bynums special sessions with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

* * *

Sometimes you hear stuff over the course of an 82-game season that makes you wonder. Here was Rambis answer to the question of whether veteran guard Aaron McKie has shown enough in the preseason to prove he can still play:

“I thought he did a terrific job, Rambis said. “He still needed to get in good shape, he still needed to work on some strength/conditioning type things. But I thought he held his own out there.

Not only is McKie out with a back injury, his stats from October don’t exactly scream “held his own.”

Three games, 39 minutes, 1 of 2 from the field, two assists and four rebounds.

If they do decide to keep McKie instead of Devin Green, the Lakers run the risk of playing early-season games without 12 healthy players on the active roster.

They already will be without Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm. If McKie cant go, that fills up the three inactive spots. The Lakers also are dealing with Kobe Bryants questionable right knee and Shammond Williams abdominal injury.

One positive in keeping McKie is that he has additional value in having a contract that expires after this season.

* * *

The Nuggets shot 60.6 percent against the Lakers and outrebounded them 51-31. Carmelo Anthony had 32 points on 11 of 16 shooting and was unstoppable at times.

The Lakers went 18 for 30 from the foul line (60 percent), which left them at 154 for 234 (65.8 percent) for the preseason. Odom missed 4 of 7 free throws and Brian Cook missed another after Denver was called for a defensive three seconds technical.

* * *

Vladimir Radmanovic finished the preseason having made 10 of 36 shots and 2 of 15 3-pointers. Its a sign of how bad his hand must be when Radmanovic is shooting 13 percent from beyond the arc.

Continue reading “Now they count” »

Wednesday report

Every year, the NBAs general manager survey comes out a couple of days before the season opener. There are questions about which teams will win the championship, which teams made the best moves over the summer and which players will be the best at each position.

One of my favorite questions is which player someday will make the best coach. This season, the top three players were Steve Nash, Eric Snow and Shane Battier.

There was another player who got a vote, namely Kobe Bryant. Yet Bryant looked like he would rather chew nails than consider the possibility of someday being a coach – – even though his father is coach of the WNBA Sparks.

“Its just not for me, Bryant said.

Lakers spokesman John Black, meanwhile, offered an alternate view.

“Im sure he would make a great coach if he chose to do it, Black said. “But hell have so much money he wont even have to get off his couch.

* * *

Bryant was voted the best shooting guard in the league, over Dwyane Wade, by the GMs. Bryant got 71.4 percent of the vote to Wades 21.4 percent.

He also was voted the best player in the league at getting his own shot and the player youd most want taking a shot with a game on the line.

Where Bryant didnt finish in the top three was in MVP favorites. He received a vote, but the top three favorites were LeBron James, Wade and Dirk Nowitzki.

Bryant received the second-most votes when GMs were asked which player forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments. Shaquille ONeal was No. 1.

Phil Jackson was only No. 3 in voting for the leagues best coach, behind Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich.

Jordan Farmar received a vote as the most likely “sleeper rookie success story.

* * *

Remember when Andrew Bynum came to the Lakers and promised to be different from ONeal because he would make his free throws? Then Bynum missed 19 of 27 free throws as a rookie, numbers that even ONeal would laugh at.

That might not be the case any more. Bynum has made 12 of 14 free throws during the preseason. He has adjusted to standing at the line in NBA arenas, with fans behind the baskets that were never there in high school.

“Thats just something that we worked on all summer long with Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), Bynum said. “In between the drills, we shot free throws. I just worked on my stroke. He helped me, he told me to get it up. He was a great free throw shooter, so just take that from him.

* * *

Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis talked about what is expected out of guard Smush Parker this season.

“As long as hes initiating our offense, Rambis said, “and also being the front man in our defense and showing everybody that we want to get up and pressure, then hes going to do well for himself and hes going to do well for us.

* * *

Injury report for Thursday’s game: Bryant is expected to be out, Vladimir Radmanovic is either questionable or doubtful, Shammond Williams is out and Von Wafer is available.

Veteran guard Aaron McKie – – who got a vote for making the best future coach in last years GM survey – – will return from Philadelphia sometime this weekend after celebrating the birth of a child.

Continue reading “Wednesday report” »

The return of Phil

Good to see Phil Jackson at the Lakers’ open practice Tuesday at Staples Center. He pronounced himself pain-free coming off the court, which was something he hasn’t been able to say much in the last two to three years.

The radiating pain caused by his arthritic hip is gone, but Jackson said he isn’t ready to make the bus ride to Anaheim for Thursday’s exhibition game.

The Lakers’ schedule is loaded with home games early but even the shortest trips clearly are going to take a toll on Jackson. After the Lakers play opening night, he has to get to the airport, get on a plane, fly to Oakland and get on a bus to the team hotel.

If you can’t sit through a drive to Anaheim, that first trip is going to feel like a cross-country flight in a middle seat.

By the way, Jackson said he hoped to start walking without a cane next week. It was amusing to see him use it Tuesday to pull a ball over to his seat and flip it up to one of the Lakers’ players.

* * *

The Lakers have put up “Lights Out” billboards across town and have installed a special lighting system for the season opener. It’s going to be similar to what the NBA uses for its All-Star Game, when the seating bowl is dark and the extra lights turn the court into a stage.

So far, the plan is for the Lakers to use the special lights only for the first game and see what the response is.

* * *

Kobe Bryant was handed a microphone at the end of the Lakers’ practice and offered a couple of insights into his life away from basketball. He said his older daughter, Natalia, is a soccer player, not a basketball player. His youngest daughter, Gianna, born in May, sleeps through the night, which Bryant said was like winning the lottery.

Assistant coach Brian Shaw also said that the Lakers coaches debated putting Bryant back in for the fourth quarter of the December game in which he scored 62 points against Dallas. They wanted to give him a shot at 70, but Bryant said he would have the chance again. Sure enough, a month later, he scored 81 against Toronto.

Here’s the report from Tuesday’s practice:
Continue reading “The return of Phil” »

The $15 million man

The Lakers took the day off Monday, their first of the season. A couple of players went in for treatment but there was no change in anyone’s injury status, according to a team spokesman. The Lakers will hold an open practice Tuesday for their season-ticket holders at Staples Center.

Here’s a story for Tuesday about Brian Grant, everyone’s favorite Laker. He’s making more than Lamar Odom this season in the final year of a monster contract. It’s remarkable that the Lakers are as competitive as they are when you consider that more than a quarter of their cap money is tied up in Grant.

The Lakers still have to pay Grant but at least were able to lessen the luxury-tax blow by waiving him two summers ago. It’s questionable if they would have been able to sign a player like Vladimir Radmanovic without making that move.

Grant’s cap number this season comes to about $14.9 million. He was owed $15.439 million by the Lakers for this season. The Lakers are entitled to offset some of his salary based on the contract Grant signed with Phoenix before last season.

Grant is due to make $1.8 million this season, which is subtracted from the league minimum of $664,209 for a second-year player and divded by two for the Lakers’ calculations. That would give the Lakers back about $567,000. If there are any amateur salary-cap experts, please let me know if I’m wrong.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

If the NBA had not given teams the opportunity back in August 2005 to shed the contract of a player for luxury-tax purposes, veteran forward Brian Grant more than likely would be a member of the Lakers today.

Instead, Grant is collecting the second-biggest paycheck on the team after Kobe Bryant even though he hasnt played for the Lakers since the 2004-05 season and isnt even in an NBA training camp this month.

To understand the $15 million hole in the Lakers payroll, you have to go back to the Shaquille ONeal trade. With ONeal due to make more than $27 million, the Lakers had to take back a big contract to make the deal work under league salary cap rules.

The Lakers were able to get Lamar Odom and Caron Butler, two promising young players, from Miami but were left to take Grant and the $43 million he was owed over three years.

“It really came down to Brian, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “He was a big man and we had to take somebody. If this (luxury-tax) amnesty rule didnt exist, Brian would still be on our team.

Grant came to the Lakers having long battled tendinitis in his knees but also having missed just 16 games in his four seasons as a full-time starter with the Heat.

But Grant struggled with a neck injury during training camp, then spent 13 games on the injured list with tendinitis. He played in 69 games his only season with the Lakers and averaged a career-low 3.8 points and 3.7 rebounds.

Then the NBA allowed teams the one-time opportunity to release a player for luxury-tax relief as part of its new collective bargaining agreement. The Lakers would have to pay Grants salary but could avoid the dollar-for-dollar luxury-tax penalty on it.

In Grants case, the Lakers stood to save nearly $30 million. The decision to waive Grant was “the prudent thing to do, as Kupchak put it.

The Lakers are not alone in paying big money to a player no longer on their roster. New York still owes the retired Allan Houston $20 million this season while Dallas will be paying Michael Finley, a luxury-tax casualty, $35 million over the next two seasons.

Kupchak said Grants contract has no effect on the Lakers in terms of their salary-cap or luxury-tax flexibility. Even with Grants deal expiring after this season, the Lakers will be still be above the salary cap with what they owe current players.

“It doesnt hinder our ability to do anything, Kupchak said.

The Lakers have about $54 million committed to players for next season, not including free agents such as Luke Walton, Chris Mihm and Smush Parker. They will be limited in the signings and trades they can do by already being over the salary cap.

However, the Lakers will have more room under the luxury-tax threshold, which was $65.42 million this season.

Grant, meanwhile, signed a two-year deal with Phoenix after he was waived by the Lakers and underwent knee surgery in December. He played in only 21 games and was traded to Boston on draft night with the rights to rookie guard Rajon Rondo.

The Celtics have kept the 34-year-old Grant on the roster but ruled out that he will ever play a game for them. They will look to trade him or could release him to make room on the roster before the start of the season.