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:

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

They sat together on the bench at the end of Tuesdays open practice for season-ticket holders at Staples Center. Phil Jackson kept one hand on an aluminum cane while Kobe Bryant propped up his right leg with two ice bags wrapped around his knee.

Such was the picture of the Lakers two leaders with a week to go until opening night.

Jackson was back in public view for the first time since undergoing hip-replacement surgery Oct. 3. He said the plan is still to coach in the season opener against Phoenix, although he wont make the trip to Anaheim for Thursdays exhibition game.

In other news, Jackson still cant drive, but he is sleeping better. He questioned whether his voice has become an “entity in his players ears and said he has been bothered by the Lakers turnover propensity and free-throw shooting woes in the preseason.

One other thing: Jackson is without a doubt concerned about the condition of Bryants knee. Even if Jackson is back for the opener, Bryant might not be.

“I dont want to push this, Jackson said. “I think its very important for him. Hes stalled out a little bit on his rehab and on coming back. I really want him to be healthy when he comes back because a lot is asked of him and he plays heavy minutes.

“If things dont go right, it could be a setback. I dont want to have that happen.

Bryant, the leagues leading scorer last season, took part in practice Tuesday, which included a light scrimmage at the end. He was heading home afterward to ice the knee again and do a third round of therapy for the day.

“It wasnt hurting in any areas as far as making me limp, Bryant said. “Certain areas were weaker than others. But it felt OK.

Bryant said he probably would not play Thursday but still hoped to be ready for the opener. At least he could laugh when asked if the trademark explosion was coming back to his game.

“Right now, no, Bryant said. “Im more like (Ron) Harper right now.

Jackson has been a regular at the Lakers practice facility the past two weeks, meeting with his assistant coaches, watching game film and plotting lineups to use in preseason games.

With seven injured players, including centers Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm, Jackson remains uncertain whether the Lakers will be able to get off to a fast start with a favorable schedule in the opening weeks of the season.

The Lakers will play 15 of their first 20 games at home, with one of their five road games against the Clippers at Staples Center. To stay on pace for a 48-win season, the Lakers would want to win 12 or 13 of those games.

“If youre playing the right kind of ball, youre going to be fine, and thats what well get across to this team, Jackson said. “Yes, youd like to get off to a good start, but its an 82-game season, and when you want to end up playing well is April and May.’

There also is the matter of how the Lakers will respond once Jackson returns full-time. With the team looking to run more this season, Jackson said it was critical his players get used to hearing his voice.

“That takes a lot of energy as a coach, Jackson said. “Youre always spurring them on, trying to drive them forward a little bit.

Jackson did joke that he is not “demonstrating much for the time being. He has walking exercises to do a couple of times a day. Even so, Bryant said it was good to see Jackson on the floor in a Lakers sweat suit.

“He had his armor on today, Bryant said. “When he puts that on, it means its time for business.

The injuries have taken a toll, but Jackson has been encouraged by his youngest players. He singled out Sasha Vujacic, Maurice Evans and rookie Jordan Farmar. In particular, Farmar has “given us some inspiration when hes come in, Jackson said.

“Right away, Jackson added, “you know that theres been three players that would normally come off the bench that you could be looking to give important minutes to out on the floor.

Also: Jackson said Andrew Bynum likely would be his starting center on opening night. . . .Veteran guard Aaron McKie returned to Philadelphia for the birth of a child.

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  • Jeremy

    He’ll be back

  • gdchild

    I want Kobe to be back when he’s 100% healthy.