Still stars, but show starts in April

Los Angeles Times - - Usc Game Report - MARK HEISLER ON THE NBA mark.heisler@latimes.com

Just when you think you’ve seen it all from the peo­ple who gave you the Me­dia Days From Hell. . . .

Calm broke out Satur­day as the Lak­ers opened camp in a sub­dued ses­sion with fewer press peo­ple and less scur­ry­ing about.

As a Lak­ers of­fi­cial noted, not un­hap­pily, “Ev­ery­one is in Mi­ami with LeBron.”

That would be LeBron James and the Heat, who have taken the cer­e­mo­nial light­ning rod from Kobe Bryant and the Lak­ers.

If the Lak­ers re­main the Lak­ers, a rare peace­ful note pre­vailed . . . even as they dis­closed their Team That Could Be Great If It’s Ever Healthy isn’t.

On the other hand, af­ter last sea­son’s end­less march to the play­offs, what do feath­ers that fly in Septem­ber mean?

With Bryant weeks away, An­drew Bynum months away and their up­com­ing trip to Europe, Coach Phil Jack­son wrote off their pre­sea­son as a “a bust” be­fore it started, look­ing no more concerned than he ever does.

Ac­tu­ally, the trip, as op­posed to the in­juries, is hard even for the even­keeled Jack­son, who didn’t like hold­ing camp in the Lak­ers’ Hawai­ian par­adise.

To Jack­son, hav­ing to take them to Europe . . . for NBA mar­ket­ing . . . is like win­ning an eight-day bus tour of the un­der­world.

On the other hand, what, him worry at this late date?

This is Phil’s last sea­son . . . un­less he wins an­other ti­tle, Jerry Buss in­vites him back and he de­cides he has one more in him.

You know, like last sea­son.

Jack­son won his last ti­tle in Chicago in 1998, with Scot­tie Pip­pen out un­til Jan­uary, hav­ing put off toe surgery un­til Oc­to­ber in a con­tract dis­pute in which he said owner Jerry Reins­dorf could “go to hell.”

Jack­son cares only about be­ing there in April, an ap­proach only his hard­est­pressed and/or most se­cure peers, like San An­to­nio’s Gregg Popovich and Bos­ton’s Doc Rivers, dare to try. Of course, it’s a neat trick. Last April, the Lak­ers and Celtics, who would meet in the Fi­nals, looked out on their feet and the Spurs were out on theirs, fall­ing to Phoenix, 4-1, in the sec­ond round.

So, if it wasn’t op­ti­mal that Bynum’s knee surgery was un­avoid­ably de­layed . . . so he could go to South Africa to see the World Cup . . . Jack­son was go­ing to bring him, and ev­ery­one else, along slowly, any­way.

Now, it will just be even slower.

As sign of the new ma­tu­rity, or bore­dom, the me­dia pur­sued the Bynum story du­ti­fully but not crazily.

By that, I mean I didn’t get in any shov­ing matches like last fall’s with an “En­ter­tain­ment Tonight” sound guy when ev­ery­one was a-flut­ter about La­mar Odom and Khloe Kar­dashian.

For his part, Bynum, whose nose isn’t im­pos­si­ble to get out of joint, han­dled it cheer­fully.

“Ob­vi­ously, it [crit­i­cism] is not un­fair,” he said, “be­cause you could get the surgery right af­ter [the sea­son]. . . . I don’t think that’s the thing you want to do com­ing off a long sea­son and com­ing off a cham­pi­onship thing. I kind of took my time with it and I’m fine.”

Ac­tu­ally, he took his time to at­tend the World Cup.

“I don’t know if I’m go­ing to have many op­por­tu­ni­ties to at­tend the World Cup,” Bynum said. “To me, it was a spe­cial moment, and I went out there and had a good time and now I’m back.”

If that wouldn’t fly ev­ery­where, or any­where else, this isn’t any­where else.

Coaches ac­tu­ally have only so much say in what surg­eries play­ers un­dergo, when they un­dergo them or even when they come out of games.

Bryant wore him­self out play­ing hurt last sea­son and still has a man­gled right in­dex fin­ger to show for it.

Bryant un­der­went arthro­scopic surgery to clean up the knee that came so close to sink­ing him, and them.

How­ever, surgery to fix the fin­ger would mean such a long re­hab, Bryant says he can play with it as it is.

Nev­er­the­less, sug­ges­tions that Kobe shouldn’t do this to him­self again sound too much like sug­ges­tions he’s old.

Asked if he must make choices he once didn’t have to, Bryant an­swered shortly, “Maybe. I don’t know.”

In other words, Bryant, not Jack­son and cer­tainly no one in the me­dia, will de­cide when he comes out.

Bryant, the most con­sci­en­tious of ath­letes, had his surgery on his timetable . . . af­ter re­turn­ing from the World Cup . . . just as Bynum did.

Bryant is so pri­vate, the Lak­ers didn’t an­nounce his surgery. The ex­act date isn’t even known. The Times’ Mike Bres­na­han re­ported it went suc­cess­fully af­ter the fact on July 24 . . . four days be­fore Bynum’s.

Hap­pily for Bryant and the Lak­ers, his surgery turned out sim­ple.

Find­ing more dam­age than ex­pected, Bynum’s sur­geon opted to sew car­ti­lage to­gether rather than snip it back, giv­ing ’Drew a longer re­hab but, he hopes, a bet­ter knee.

In any case, they’re back and, if not bet­ter than ever, it’s a long time un­til they need to be.

PA­TIENCE, PEO­PLE:

Robert Gauthier

Kobe Bryant, in de­mand at me­dia day, isn’t quite ready af­ter knee surgery, but the play­offs are seven months away.

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