Clarifying Bryant

In this case, the Lakers DON’T want the phone to ring. Well, not exactly the phone. But the buzzer outside their offices in El Segundo where a courier would’ve delivered the certified mail indicating Kobe Bryant had decided to terminate his contract.

Indications are that Bryant is not terminating his contract and will play for $23 million next season, as scheduled.

With some player option contract situations, the player has to exercise his option on the contract. Basically an “opt-in.” In this case, it would be an opt-out. Which means no news is good news for the Lakers.

Here’s where it gets kind of funny. There was a bit of confusion about the deadline for such action to take place. It’s normally 5 p.m. ET but in Bryant’s case, according to a Lakers spokesperson, the phrasing is simply, “by the end of the day.” The spokesperson said that the Lakers are interpreting that to mean midnight.

I had originally expected Bryant to opt-out and negotiate a new 5-year contract because it makes the most financial sense, with the least risk. But after making some calls around the league, I realize exactly what this is about: Leverage.

Why opt-out now when there is no leverage to be gained? The Lakers would of course give him the max extension without many questions asked. And all indications are that the team is willing to pay to keep free agents Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown.

But next summer — which had been known as the summer of LeBron (and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, etc) — there is plenty of leverage to be gained by opting out. Bryant would likely want some say in who the Lakers next coach will be (if Phil Jackson retires), some say in which free agents the team targets the following summer, and… would like to see how the NBA landscape shifts after LeBron & Co. make up their minds. If, for example, LeBron and Bosh head to the Knicks to create a monster team in New York, would Bryant want to stand pat in LA?

By staying with the Lakers another year, Bryant assumes the normal risk of injury, but he gains a ton more leverage for his next contract.

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Kobe won’t opt out

Nothing official from the Lakers as yet, but ESPN.com has just posted a story that says Kobe Bryant will not terminate the final two years of his contract and become a free agent. He had until 9 p.m. tonight to let the Lakers know he would opt out of his deal. ESPN.com quoted unnamed sources. The story also indicated, “The Lakers will work with Bryant over the summer and fall to hammer out a new, long-term extension, according to the source.”

UPDATED: Just spoke with Lakers spokesman John Black, who said the team has not heard anything from Bryant so far today. Best best is that the deadline with come and go tonight at 9, and Bryant will still be with the team.

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Coach K says thanks but no thanks

Phil Jackson has yet to formally announce his plans for next season, but one of the potential candidates to replace him –if or when he ever does retire — seemed to preemtively pull himself out of the running Tuesday afternoon.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters at his annual summer meeting with the local press in Durham, North Carolina that, “”I’m not going to the Lakers. They have one of the great coaches in the game. I don’t know where that rumor started, but there has been nothing done like that, and I’m not leaving Duke. Whatever you hear about anything like that, I will never leave Duke until I leave coaching.”

I know exactly where the rumor has come from. The last time Jackson left the Lakers in 2004, Coach K was Kobe Bryant’s first choice as a successor. If Jackson leaves again, you’d better believe No. 24 will have a say in who the Lakers next coach is.

For now though, Coach K sounds like he likes it in Durham just fine.

“Since the Laker thing (in 2004), to hear another rumor like that, not that it’s so bad, but I’d rather not go there at all,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t want my Duke team – not necessarily my basketball team, but my Duke team, the community – to feel like you’re looking at other things. I’m getting ready to start my 30th year at Duke, and I don’t see the finish line yet. I know the finish line will be there sometime, but it’s not in my vision right now.”

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Afternoon update

Still a couple of hours before free agency begins at 9 tonight. So far, there’s nothing to indicate how things might go with any of the Lakers’ three free agents. Spoke to Trevor Ariza’s agent, David Lee, a little while ago and he’s unsure what offers might be made when the negotiating period begins. He expects a call ASAP from GM Mitch Kupchak. Ariza, Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown are unrestricted free agents, free to sign with any team including the Lakers. They say they want to return; the Lakers say they want them back.

Meanwhile, there’s no news on the Kobe Bryant front. Bryant can terminate his contract at 9 tonight, becoming an unrestricted free agent. The conventional wisdom is that Bryant won’t opt out of of the final two seasosn of his current deal, which pays him roughly $23 million for next season and about $25 for 2010-11. He said several times earlier this month that he intends to remain with the Lakers and has no plans to play elsewhere.

Stay tuned.

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Season Review: Adam Morrison

OVERVIEW: Backup forward Adam Morrison joined the Lakers in the deal that sent Vladimir Radmanovic to the Charlotte Bobcats on Feb. 7. Morrison only played in eight games with the Lakers, averaging 1.3 points. He didn’t play at all during the playoffs and he remains something of a mystery. After sitting out all of 2007-08 because of a knee injury, he quickly became expendable in Charlotte. He hardly played a minute after he was traded to the Lakers and it’s unclear what his role might be next season.

STRENGTH: Has the potential to be a fine perimeter shooter.

WEAKNESS: Hasn’t accomplished much of anything in three NBA seasons.

GRADE: Incomplete.

CONTRACT STATUS: Signed through 2009-10.

Next: Lamar Odom.

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Gasol to play in Eurobasket

From a story on Reuters: Pau Gasol and Ricky Rubio were included in the Spain squad today for the 2009 European Championship (Eurobasket) in Poland. Gasol has just helped the Lakers win the NBA championship, while 18-year-old Rubio hopes to join him in the United States next season if he can negotiate a release from his contract with his Spanish club team. Rubio was selected fifth in the draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves last week. Spain coach Sergio Scariolo brought in Carlos Cabezas for injured Toronto Raptors guard Jose Manuel Calderon, and Victor Claver for retired captain Carlos Jimenez. World champion Spain was the runner-up to Russia in the last Eurobasket final in Madrid two years ago. This year’s tournament is in Poland from Sept. 7-20.

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Season Review: DJ Mbenga

OVERVIEW: Backup center DJ Mbenga played only 23 games during the regular season and seven in the playoffs. He averaged 2.7 points and 1.3 rebounds during the regular season and 0.3 points and 0.4 rebounds in the playoffs. He was invaluable as a practice player, however, sharpening the skills of the Lakers’ big men. He battled with Andrew Bynum, Chris Mihm (before he was traded Feb. 18 to Memphis) and Pau Gasol in the paint all season during practices. They all were better for the competition.

QUOTEWORTHY: “They (the Lakers) are really happy the way I progressed. They believe and hope if I keep working, I can make more happen.”

STRENGTH: Size and strength are formidable weapons.

WEAKNESS: Still lacks polish at both ends of the floor.

GRADE: A.

CONTRACT STATUS: Signed through 2009-10 (team option).

Next: Adam Morrison.

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Season Review: Pau Gasol

OVERVIEW: Center/power forward Pau Gasol credited a new and improved weightlifting program with making him stronger this season. He was able to battle bigger, stronger opponents in the paint with more success, mixing a little more brawn to go with the brains. He averaged 18.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 81 regular-season games, including 32 games at center while Andrew Bynum recovered from a torn knee ligament. Gasol then averaged 18.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists during the playoffs, when he helped the Lakers to the title by jousting successfully with Orlando’s Dwight Howard. Gasol joined an impressive list of Lakers centers to win NBA championships: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal.

QUOTEWORTHY: “I think this year I was able to get myself ready mentally and physically. And I was able to deliver very well throughout the playoffs and help my team conquer the championship. So, it’s been a beautiful, amazing year and I’ll never forget it.”

STRENGTH: Passing ability ranks with the best big men in recent history.

WEAKNESS: He still must get stronger around the basket.

GRADE: A.

CONTRACT STATUS: Signed through 2010-11.

Next: DJ Mbenga.

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Season Review: Derek Fisher

OVERVIEW: Point guard Derek Fisher delivered when it mattered most, when the Lakers needed a big basket or two against the Orlando Magic in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. He tied the score with only seconds to play and then gave the team the lead for good in overtime with a pair of 3-pointers that will go down in Lakers lore. Things went according to plan, with Fisher playing a key role when it was needed in the playoffs. He averaged only 9.9 points in 29.8 minutes during 82 regular-season games, but increased his averages to 11 points in 36 minutes during the Finals. The game plan probably will be the same next season, with Fisher playing limited minutes during the regular season and then boosting his playing time during the playoffs. It was a winning formula in 2008-09.

QUOTEWORTHY: “I know there were times people would question whether we were taking it serious enough, and if we had what it took to get this done, but we really did have a lot of fun working together.”

STRENGTH: Remarkable ability to hit big shots in the clutch.

WEAKNESS: Turns 35 in August.

GRADE: B.

CONTRACT STATUS: Signed through 2009-10.

Next: Pau Gasol.

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Season Review: Jordan Farmar

OVERVIEW: Reserve guard Jordan Farmar didn’t produce as he did in 2007-08, which led to a cut in minutes, which led to a further drop in scoring. At one point, Farmar hardly played at all as Shannon Brown took his minutes. Late in the season, Farmar went to the coaches and apologized for letting his frustration get the better of him. The coaches were said to be impressed, taking it as a sign of maturity. Farmar ended the regular season averaging 6.4 points (down from 9.1 last season) in 65 games (down from 82). He sat out 17 games after undergoing left knee surgery Dec. 24 and never regained a consistent rhythm. He averaged 4.7 points in 20 playoff games, including one start while Derek Fisher was suspended for one game in the second-round series against Houston.

QUOTEWORTHY: “I want to win a championship and if that means I play five minutes or twenty minutes, I’ll do it.”

STRENGTH: Brash and confident.

WEAKNESS: Sometimes too brash and too confident for his own good.

GRADE: C.

CONTRACT STATUS: Signed through 2009-10.

Next: Derek Fisher.

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