Season Review: Kobe Bryant

OVERVIEW: Shooting guard Kobe Bryant had another superb individual season, but it was his continued maturity as a team leader that stood out above his scoring average in 2008-09. Bryant led the Lakers to the NBA championship, pushing and prodding his teammates rather than waging war against them. He averaged 26.8 points in 82 games, his lowest since he averaged 24 points in 2003-04. He then averaged 30.2 points in the playoffs, guiding the Lakers past the Orlando Magic in five games. Bryant has an early termination clause in his contract, which means he could be a free agent at the end of the month. He said he’s not going anywhere, deflecting repeated questioning about his future with the Lakers. He said it wasn’t worth his time to discuss it.

QUOTEWORTHY: “Having gone through what we went through last year and having the goal in mind of trying to get back to this point, and to have the attitude of (trying) to become a better defensive team, a better rebounding team, and then to actually do it and to see it all happen, it feels like I’m dreaming right now.”

STRENGTH: Leading his team with deeds and words.

WEAKNESS: Still can do more to ignore calls and non-calls of referees.

GRADE: A.

CONTRACT STATUS: Signed through 2010-11, but can terminate his deal June 30.

Next: Andrew Bynum.

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Season review: Shannon Brown

OVERVIEW: Reserve guard Shannon Brown joined the Lakers after a Feb. 7 trade from the Charlotte Bobcats. He made an immediate impression with his athleticism and his leaping ability, in particular. He isn’t necessarily a point guard or a shooting guard, but a combo guard. That’s OK in the triangle offense because any perimeter player can set things in motion with one pass. Brown picked up the triangle quickly, averaging 3.2 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.6 assists in 18 games after the trade. He also averaged 4.9 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.6 assists in 21 playoff games. He showed a knack for getting open on the perimeter and making jump shots. He also displayed an ability to defy the rules of gravity while dunking and blocking shots, becoming a fan favorite.

QUOTEWORTHY: “I think they’re very interested in having me back. I want to be back.”

STRENGTH: Overall athleticism.

WEAKNESS: Still a bit of a raw talent.

GRADE: Incomplete because he wasn’t with the team for a full season.

CONTRACT STATUS: Unrestricted free agent July 1.

Next: Kobe Bryant.

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Season Review: Trevor Ariza

OVERVIEW: Small forward Trevor Ariza became a starter in March, after it became clear that he was better suited to the role than Luke Walton. Ariza told Lakers coach Phil Jackson he wasn’t comfortable as a starter, but all that changed in mid-March. Ariza averaged 8.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 82 games during the regular season, including 20 starts. He then averaged 11.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists during the playoffs, making him an attractive free agent. The Lakers hope to bring him back next season, believing his best years are still to come. It won’t be easy to re-sign him, however. His improvement, particularly in his perimeter game, was eye-catching. Expect plenty of other teams to go after Ariza when free agency begins next month. Former Westchester High and UCLA standout wants to stay in Los Angeles, however.

QUOTEWORTHY: “I’d love to (re-sign). I’d hope so. I feel like I’m at home here, because I am at home. So I’d definitely love to come back.”

STRENGTH: Worked hard to improve his 3-point range,making it a weapon.

WEAKNESS: Must avoid temptation to go for steals at every chance.

GRADE: A.

CONTRACT STATUS: Unrestricted free agent July 1.

Next: Shannon Brown.

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Kobe Bryant contract primer

The NBA’s unofficial salary-cap guru Larry Coon penned a great primer on the issues surrounding Kobe Bryant’s contract situation.

In a nutshell, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference financially if Bryant opts out and re-signs this summer or next. He’ll still be able to make about $135 million over the next five years.

But if he were to wait until the contract runs out in two years (and not opt out either summer), he’d be risking the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement changing pretty dramatically. Or, if he were to sign an extension for three years, past the final two seasons remaining on his contract (instead of opting out), Coon calculates that Bryant would lose around $7 million in contract value over the next five seasons.

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Phil on his future

Phil Jackson plans to decide whether to coach again next season with the Lakers after undergoing some medical tests in the next week or so. Here’s more from Jackson, who met with reporters this afternoon: “There are a couple of appointments I have that have to be made and fulfilled before I can make that decision. I’m feeling good, got a couple of good nights sleep, so that’s been great. I haven’t gone to any parties, so that helps.I had some issues this year that showed up, particularly on road trips, post-flight, post-activity, that were issues that concerned me a little bit, that concerned our health staff,” he said. “So, we’ll talk about that and get them checked out.”

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Kobe prefers to deflect, rather than reflect

Well, that’s not entirely true. Kobe Bryant did engage in a little reflection during his time with the media on Friday, producing such insights as:

“I’ll take a couple months off. These couple months I’m going to enjoy. It’s going to be very relaxin.

“No evil flashbacks. Everything is going to be very positive.”

And, insight on his sleeping schedule over the summer:

“I’m doing OK. I don’t sleep much anyway, so I’m just looking for different things to do at 6 in the morning. I’m not sure, maybe scuba diving.”

Basically, after several rather contentious exit interviews in the last few years, KB was pretty upbeat. And why not? The Lakers just won the title, celebrated with a parade, an afternoon at Disneyland and a rocking party at LA Live with a performance by Kanye West.

“It’s a good memory. It all ends pretty abruptly,” Bryant said of the last couple days. “You kind of go through that phase where you wake up in the morning and it feels like you’re supposed to be doing something. Feels like you’re late for something. But that’s the game goes. You’re going and going and going full throttle and then all of a sudden, boom it’s over. ”

In between vacation planning, sleep and late-night TV appearances, the focus shifts toward the offseason, namely whether Bryant will opt out, whether Phil Jackson will retire and whether the Lakers can keep their three free agents: Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown.

While Bryant said signing Odom, Ariza and Brown was “ of the utmost importance” he wasn’t all that chatty about his own contract situation.

“ I’ve been deflecting that all year, I ain’t going to stop now,” he joked.

Our own Elliott Teaford followed up with, “Why though?” and Bryant said, “Because y’all are going to make it a big ass story… I’m not going anywhere, I ain’t going nowhere, we’d just waste our breath just talking about it. Let’s talk about Trevor and Lamar, and the importance of bringing them back.”

On that subject, Bryant was pretty unequivocal:

“I think we’ve got a hell of a team. It took years and years of frustation to get to this point and having this group. Now we got the group, so now it’s just about keeping this group together so we can keep on running this thing.”

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Season Reviews

OK, here’s the plan for next week: I’m compiling quotes and notes on each player and will start posting Season Reviews on each one starting Monday. I’ll put one up each day until we get through with the roster, then we’ll move to Coach Phil Jackson and GM Mitch Kupchak. Also, next week, I’ll have some draft preview stuff. The Lakers have three picks,including the 29th overall selection. (That’s at the end of the first round).

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Ready for another parade?

The confetti swirled around the court as the Lakers left the Coliseum. Paper-thin squares of purple, gold and white, fluttering in the early afternoon breeze.

Within minutes the Lakers were gone, packed back into air-conditioned charter buses and on their way home for a champagne-soaked summer.

This season was one to savor.

Will next season be, too?

The Lakers victory parade and rally at the Coliseum drew approximately 150,000 fans who came to celebrate the team’s 15th NBA title but with the distinct hope it was the start of a new dynasty, not a fleeting glory.

“It was Laker-monium in here today,” said Wendree White, who has been selling sausages and turkey dogs at the Coliseum since the 1984 Olympics. “Laker-monium. I don’t know what the decibel level was inside, but it was loud.

“Now we just got to get Mitch Kupchak to bring everyone back, Lamar (Odom), Trevor (Ariza), Shannon (Brown) and Phil (Jackson), so we can win again next year.”

Exactly one year had passed since the Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals and Wednesday’s victory parade.

But no sooner had the Lakers covered the 2.2 miles from Staples Center to the L.A. Coliseum in their double-decker buses, than questions about next year came up.

Lakers television commentators Joel Meyers and Stu Lantz emceed the event, but made sure to grill coach Phil Jackson and Finals MVP Kobe Bryant –who can opt out of the final two years of his contract on July 1st — on whether both would be back with the team next year.

“I had to,” Lantz said afterwards. “Had to.”

He got a pretty good answer from Bryant, who led his teammates and the 80,000 fans who packed the Coliseum in a cheer of “1-2-3 … Ring!” to cap the rally.

“Where am I going to go, this is my home,” Bryant said, drawing the loudest cheer of the afternoon from the crowd.

“We have a young team, we have a chemistry. We feel this championship, we feel the energy of the city. We want want to do this again and again.”

Jackson, who won his record 10th NBA title, but will turn 64 in September, wasn’t as committal, though it is still believed he will return for the final year of his contract.

“Thanks,” was all Jackson said when Meyers said “We hope you’re back at least one more time” following Jackson’s address to the crowd.

Jackson has said he’ll take some time after the season to evaluate his situation before committing to another season. Wednesday he thanked the fans, his family and his team for a memorable season.

“To this team, what was our motto on this team? The Ring. The Ring,” Jackson said. “That was the motto. It’s not just this band of gold, it’s the circle that’s made a bond between all of these players. They have a great love for one another.”

They also, obviously have a great affection for their fans, who turned out in droves to celebrate the team’s first title since 2002.

Lakers forward Pau Gasol blew kisses to the crowd as he stepped to the microphone, standing on the Lakers court which had been brought over from Staples Center and re-assembled on the podium inside.

“I’ve been blessed to be a part of this team, be a part of this city, be a part of this community, so thank you so much,” Gasol said.

“I want to thank everybody for being here today, you guys are making our day.

“After experiencing what we experienced in the parade coming here and being in this beautiful stadium. We want to definitely offer you more. So be ready for it.”

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