Kobe Bryant believes in Lakers' core
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The chants echoing through Staples Center for most of this disastrous 2012-13 Lakers season were more like pleas for Phil Jackson to come out of retirement.
Kobe Bryant likes the ring of a different one for next season: "One more year."
"There's a lot on the table for them, with these new penalties and so forth," Bryant said of the challenges facing Lakers ownership this offseason as the new, more punitive penalties in the NBA's collective bargaining agreement kick in.
One more year. That's how I look at it. One more year of this thing. Our contracts are ending. ... Pau is up after next year. Hopefully we get Dwight locked up so he's here for a while and the future is kind of set already. So let's take a crack at this thing.Kobe Bryant
"It's a tough call to make. But then again, it is one more year. One more year. That's how I look at it. One more year of this thing.
"Our contracts are ending. ... Pau [Gasol] is up after next year. Hopefully, we get Dwight [Howard] locked up so he's here for a while and the future is kind of set already. So let's take a crack at this thing."
After the way this season ended for both Bryant (who ruptured his Achilles with three games to go in the regular season) and the Lakers, it's hard at first to conjure up much enthusiasm for bringing back the core of this team and trying it all again next season.
But Bryant said he believes the team "finally figured it out" when it finished the season on a 28-12 run, and that if the core of himself, Gasol, Howard and Steve Nash returns, "We can win a championship, no doubt about it."
"We know what we need to do," Bryant said. "We know what that rhythm feels like. To break that apart and now have to start fresh wouldn't make sense.
"There's no more confusion about how I should play with Dwight or how Dwight should play with Pau. So to allow that to dissipate and have to do that again with another group, it's a headache."
Bryant said he felt Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni was on the same page as far as the way the team should play next season if the core group returns.
"We talked about that," he said. "It's not something he's even considering. If you've got Pau here and you've got Dwight here, you're going to post the ball hard, slow it down. If you've got the opportunity to run, you run. The same way we've been playing."
Bryant said he is confident he'll be ready to go by the start of next season but thought it was reaching a bit to think he'll be anything more than a spectator when the Lakers open the preseason in China.
He's able to walk in a protective boot, isn't experiencing any pain and had the stitches removed from the surgery to repair his Achilles just more than two weeks ago.
He said the outpouring of support from fans "drives me" while he's keeping track of those who doubt his ability to return from what has historically been a career-threatening injury.
Asked his opinion of those who suggest the Lakers use the amnesty provision of the new CBA on the remaining $30 million on his contract, Bryant said, "I understand what everybody is saying from a business perspective. But I enjoy that kind of chatter.
"You saw what happened to [Dallas Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban. So I've got a whole summer to sit on this one. I took notes of who said what."
Cuban famously suggested the Lakers should think about using the amnesty provision on Bryant's contract, as it would solve virtually all their upcoming luxury-tax woes.
The Lakers paid approximately $30 million in luxury taxes to field their disappointing $100 million roster. If they fielded a similarly compensated payroll next season, they would owe closer to $85 million in luxury taxes, as well as subject themselves to the more punitive repeater penalties that kick in for the 2014-15 season.
It is for this reason Gasol's name comes up so often in trade speculation and talk of whose contract the Lakers could exercise the amnesty provision on to solve their financial woes. Gasol is due $19.3 million in the final year of his contract next season.
Bryant has long been a supporter of the Spaniard, with whom he has won two NBA titles in Los Angeles. He reiterated his support to general manager Mitch Kupchak and D'Antoni on Tuesday.
"I was pretty clear when I met with Mitch. I said, 'I want Pau here,'" Bryant said.
"It's not even a question. It's not even a discussion. I think he gives us the best chance to win titles. You bring Dwight back, and we're off and running.
"You have to look at how well we started playing together once this thing got solved. It finally got solved, and we were all clicking and rolling. That's my message."
Bryant also had a message for Howard, who will be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"We all pride ourselves on being businessmen to a certain extent," Bryant said. "I think from a business standpoint it makes more sense, both contractually and also perception-wise. This is an incredible market. It's a great place. A lot of things go well for you when you win here.
"If I was him, I'd re-sign."