Even if Kobe Bryant has stepped foot on a basketball court for only six games this season, that hasn’t stopped the legions of Laker fans all over the world clamoring to vote for him in this year’s All-Star game.
Bryant leads all backcourt players in both conferences with 723,031 votes. But considering he will remain sidelined for another three weeks with a fractured left knee, Bryant suggested fans should vote for someone else.
“I probably wouldn’t be able to come back soon enough to be able to make my stamp or make my mark on the game,” Bryant said of the All-Star game, which takes place Feb. 16 in New Orleans. “My advice is to focus on the younger players like the Damian Lillards of the world. They’re most deserving to be out here that weekend.”
Lillard ranks third overall in NBA point guards in scoring (21.3 points), but ranks eighth overall among Western Conference guards with votes (105,880). Yet, Bryant sounded sensitive about missing what would be his 16th All-Star appearance.
“There’s a side of the argument where you put a lot of work over the years and if fans vote you in, you want to go out there and show your appreciation and respect to them,” Bryant said. “It’s always a delicate balance. From where I come from, I really enjoy watching the young guys doing it and performing. Even though there is so much respect for me to play for the fans, I’d much rather see the young guys go out there and play the game. They’ve obviously put the work to be there. I’d much rather see them go out there and participate.”
Bryant remains three weeks from participating, confining himself to stationary bike drills, set shooting and monitoring his diet. Bryant plans to do the same things when he travels with the Lakers on their two-game trip this week to Dallas (Tuesday) and Houston (Wednesday).
“I stay in shape and feel strong and I focus on the moment and focus on being ready physically,” Bryant said. “That’s all I can do. You can’t worry about what you can’t control.”
That’s why Bryant hardly made much of the latest uncertainty on Pau Gasol. The Lakers have talked with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the past week about a deal that would involve Gasol going to Cleveland and Andrew Bynum returning to the Lakers. The Lakers have no interest in keeping Bynum, who would be waived immediately before his $12.5 million contract becomes guaranteed on Jan. 10. Even though the move could save the Lakers about $20 million in luxury taxes, the Lakers would more assets such as a young player and draft picks. Per NBA rules, the deal would have to include at least one player to match Gasol’s $19.3 million he’s making this year.
“The only time he hasn’t been in trade rumors is when we won our back to back championships,” Bryant said. “It seems like every other week, he’s been in trade discussions. At some point you kind of get used to it. It is what it is. I think he’s used to it as well and numb to the entire process as well.”
Bryant has offered plenty of vocal support toward Gasol and outlining the need for the Lakers’ to keep him. But he didn’t sound as strong Sunday about standing up for Gasol, who has averaged 15.3 points on a career-low 44.9 percent shooting.
“How much more am I supposed to support a guy besides making a Pau flag and riding in here on a horse with Spanish colored paint on my face like the Spaniard William Wallace,” Bryant said, laughing. “I don’t know what else there is to do.”
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