Bryant remains frustrated as he waits for Lakers to build a roster to take them to the next level.
By Mike Bresnahan, Times Staff Writer
8:10 PM PDT, May 26, 2007
Twenty-four days later, No. 24 was still simmering.
Time has not tempered the frustration felt by the cornerstone of the Lakers' franchise, who has watched two key teammates — Kwame Brown and Lamar Odom — face medical issues that have thrust their off-season into doubt, as well as many trade possibilities for the team.
The Lakers that were seen at the end of the season might look a lot like those that return for the start of 2007-08, with some minor additions here and there. It isn't sitting well with Kobe Bryant.
"I want to see us get to a contending level," he said Saturday with firmness in his voice. "I want to see us become a championship contender. It's been a frustrating process for me and I'm sure it's been a frustrating process for all Laker fans. I'm just hoping we can get to that level. I'm still frustrated. I'm waiting for them to make some changes."
Bryant, though, didn't want to elaborate on what changes he thought could be made.
It was an extension of what he said in the wake of the Lakers' playoff elimination on May 2, phrases and thoughts at the time that could have initially been chalked up to the sting of losing in five games to the Phoenix Suns. Instead, it's looking like Bryant's views will continue to be part of the backdrop, a marked change from the demeanor of the nine-time All-Star in recent seasons.
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak declined to comment.
The Lakers have not won a playoff series since beating Minnesota in the 2004 Western Conference finals, but Bryant kept a patient outward manner over the years, often referring to the team's turnaround as a "process" and a "work in progress."
His dissatisfaction mounted as the team tumbled from a 26-13 start, and he eventually voiced signs of public discontent for the first time after a playoff loss to Phoenix in Game 1, saying, "We definitely have to get to that elite level, and get to that elite level, like, now."
Bryant, who has played 11 seasons with the Lakers and will turn 29 in August, has already logged 9,000 more minutes than Michael Jordan at the same age, and it can be argued that his 131 career playoff games increases his actual on-court time to more than 12 1/2 NBA seasons.
Earlier this month, after a meeting with Coach Phil Jackson and General Manager Mitch Kupchak after the Lakers' first-round playoff exit, Bryant expanded his views on the future.
"This is a competitive city," he said. "We're used to winning titles, not just winning games and being in the first round. We want to win championships. Now's the time.
"That's one of the things when I re-signed here, they promised they would build a contender and build a contender now. I don't want to have to wait any more than I already have."
Bryant said Saturday he did not want to be traded. He has a no-trade clause in his contract for what is believed to be two more seasons, although he holds the right to waive it. He still has four years and $88.6 million left on his contract and has the option of terminating the contract in two years, which would leave a hefty $47.8 million on the table.
The Lakers, for their part, don't have many tools for immediate improvement.
They are over the salary cap, which means the only way to drastically change their roster is to make trades, a task that became much harder with recent medical reports on Brown and Odom.
Odom had surgery last week to repair the torn labrum in his left shoulder, a procedure that will require about four months of recovery time. Brown will undergo surgery this week to remove bone spurs in his left ankle, and he might need reconstructive surgery on the ankle that would require a recovery period of several months.
The Western Conference seemingly got stronger last week when Portland and Seattle won the top two picks in the NBA draft lottery, likely adding Greg Oden and Kevin Durant to their rosters.
The Lakers have the 19th pick and two second-round selections in the June 28 draft. They could use the mid-level exception to sign a free agent for up to five years at about $30 million. Separately, they can offer their own free agent, Luke Walton, more than any other team when the free-agent negotiating period begins July 1.