NYT interviews Bryant

Kobe Bryant did a sit-down interview last week with a reporter from The New York Times, who was out here for a few days picking up stuff to advance tonight’s game between the Lakers and the New York Knicks. Bryant had a couple of interesting responses. Here are two:

Question: Do you feel like you still have room to grow as a player?
Bryant: “I do. I do. I think there’s so much more to understand. A lot of it just has to do with winning. It has nothing to do with me as an individual. Just more so, how can I lead these guys? That’s kind of been the evolution as a basketball player. When you first come into the league, you’re trying to prove yourself as an individual, do things to assert yourself and establish yourself. But then once you’ve done that, there’s another level to the game that’s more complex than figuring out how to put up big numbers as an individual. That’s easy to do.”

Question: Do you think your game has evolved since even two, three years ago?
Bryant: “Oh, without a doubt. A lot of that has to do with the team that I have because they allow me to explore those other areas of my game because they’re better basketball players, so that enables me to sit back and say, ‘OK, I don’t have to score 40 points a game to keep us competitive.’ I can start thinking the game more and thinking how can I use the pieces that I have here as opposed to thinking, ‘Damn, I’ve got to put my head down and go out there and try to beat two or three guys just to keep us in the game.’ So, I think they help me get to another level of understanding the game.”

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Jim Buss on Ron Artest

Jim Buss, the Lakers’ VP in charge of player personnel, had this to say about the signing of Ron Artest as a free agent last summer: “I think Artest is an incredible defender and he’s a perfect fit for this team. I think we improved. He enjoys locking down top, quality players on the other team. He enjoys it. It’s hard to find those kinds of guys. He looks forward to going against Carmelo Anthony. He looks forward to going against LeBron James.

“Not too many people say that. He’s impressive to me when we sat down and talked to him. I know he’s got that reputation, but when you talk to him you can’t see it. He’s been good for years. The circumstances that happened, he’s even asked for his money back. I think he’s a good guy. I think he realizes what he really wants, and that’s a ring.”

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Went to a game and …

… a concert broke out, thanks to the American Music Awards ending across the street at the Nokia Theatre The Lakers were well ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder when things started popping early in the fourth quarter. No, not on the court but in the stands. Just as the fourth quarter started A-Rod and Fergie walked to a pair of courtside seats with Will.i.am. A-Rod, of course, plays with the World Series champion New York Yankees. Fergie and Will.i.am play with the Black Eyed Peas. Not to be overlooked, Jay-Z was also in the house. Suddenly, during a timeout, Will.i.am stood with a microphone at his seat and began to sing, “I Gotta Feeling,” which has been something of a standard on the Lakers’ sound track this season. Only in L.A., kids. Only in L.A.

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Lakers 101, Thunder 85

Kobe Bryant scored 26 points, including two on a shot from behind the backboard, and Andrew Bynum shook off an ankle injury to score 25 points and grab a team-leading nine rebounds. Pau Gasol added 15 points in his second game back on the active roster after sitting out the first 11 games because of a strained right hamstring. Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 19 points, and former UCLA standout Russell Westbrook had 14. The Lakers led by as many as 28 points in winning their third in a row. They are 10-3 overall.

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Halftime: Lakers 57, Thunder 34

Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum each scored 15 points to lead the Lakers to a 23-point lead over the Thunder by halftime tonight. Bryant made 7 of 13 shots and Bynum hit 6 of 7. Bynum also had a team-leading six rebounds after sitting out the last two practices because of what the team called a jammed right ankle. Ron Artest added seven points for the Lakers. Russell Westbrook, a former UCLA standout, led the Thunder with seven points.

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Buss interview

Team owner Jerry Buss held his annual sit-down chat with Lakers beat writers tonight. He was joined by his son, Jim, and they stressed their desire to win championships outweighs their desire to make lots and lots of money. In a perfect world, they would make money and win. Anyway, here’s some of what they said when asked about the Lakers’ league-leading $91.4-million payroll:

Jim Buss: “I like our team. I think we improved with Artest. If we win again, I’ll look to raise the bar that much more. I’m not one that sits pat on a win. You kind of want to improve because that’s what all the other teams, that’s what they’re doing, which is baseically improving to beat you. You want to stay one step ahead. That’s basically how we run the team, by staying one step ahead of the competition. It’s well spent. We don’t like that, that it’s that high. If we happen to get some bargains, I think (Ron) Artest is a bargain. He (Jerry) yells at me every day for the payroll. No, as long as it’s well spent, he’s fine with it. Of course, it would be great to spend $60 million instead of $90 million and have the same team. But to maintain that team, it’s difficult.”

Jerry Buss: “I think (winning) has to be (paramount). If we could find a way to save some money and stay the level of competition we’re at, obviously, we’d try to do that. In this particularly case, we feel the dollars were well spent. Nobody likes this. I’d rather take the $30 or $40 million and put it in my pocket. Just look at my (worn and torn) jeans. You think I don’t have a big payroll. If it’s necessary, we’re going to do it. That’s just the way it is. We kind of stare at each other and gulp. That’s the way it is.”

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Bynum sits out again

Andrew Bynum sat out of practice for the second straight day, but told Lakers coach Phil Jackson he intends to play Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Bynum sprained his right ankle during the third quarter of the Lakers’ victory Thursday over the Chicago Bulls. He also did not practice Friday. “We hope he’s back,” Jackson said when asked about Bynum’s status for Sunday. “He was better today.” The 7-foot Bynum, who is averaging 19.4 points and 11.4 rebounds, sat out two games earlier this season because of a strained right elbow.

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Gasol update

Here’s what Pau Gasol had to say today after scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the Lakers’ victory Thursday over the Chicago Bulls, which also was his season debut: “It feels good, it feels good to be getting back into the groove of things. I’m happy about the game (Thursday) night. I just want to continue to work and continue to get better.”

When asked if he was surprised by his effectiveness he said: “A little, a little bit. I wasn’t expecting that level of contribution. I was just playing basketball. I was playing with my guys, and that was something I missed a lot. I’ve just got to get back into the rhythm.”

Gasol sat out the season’s first 11 games because of a hamstring injury.

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Champs again? And again? And again?

In case you missed it late Thursday, here’s what TNT’s Charles Barkley had to say about the Lakers after their victory over the Chicago Bulls: “I said that this team could actually win the next three or four championships, I thought that three years ago. They are going to be tough to be beat because they aren’t missing anything. You usually say this team needs this or this team needs that. They’ve got it all, they can take (Pau) Gasol and (Andrew) Bynum off the team and they would still be the favorite to win the NBA Championship. Now with those guys together with Ron Artest they are going to take a lot of wear and tear off Kobe (Bryant). They are going to be tough to beat four out of seven times.”

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Bynum sprains right ankle

Andrew Bynum said he sprained his right ankle when he picked up his fourth foul against Brad Miller in the third quarter. Bynum didn’t believe it was serious, but said he’d know more in the morning when he goes for treatment.

He was walking on his own after the game.

“Hopefully things aren’t too bad,” Bynum said. “I’m going to get some therapy in the morning.”

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