Yet the Lakers also realize turmoil is as much a part of this club as those famous gold jerseys.
New coach Mike Brown ran his first practice Friday without big men Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom as the Lakers opened training camp under the cloud of a trade shockingly blocked by the NBA.
Odom showed up more than 90 minutes late to the Lakers’ training complex, and then left early after a meeting with general manager Mitch Kupchak. Gasol, the four-time All-Star forward also included in the deal, showed up for the workout but didn’t practice before leaving the building early for what the team claimed was medical evaluation on a strained right quadriceps.
From Brown to Kobe Bryant to Metta World Peace, nobody denied the strangeness of the Lakers’ situation – but nobody thought it was a serious setback to their preparations for the shortened season, even with Gasol and Odom missing practice amid reports the New Orleans Hornets still were trying to trade Paul.
“Unfortunately, it’s just the nature of the beast,” Bryant said. “That’s just the business that we’re in. In this situation, the commissioner has the right to void the trade. For the players involved, it’s always tough to hear your name mentioned in trade discussions, but at the end of the day you’ve got to do your job. You can only control so much.”
Kupchak met with the Lakers to brief them on “the awkward moment,” as center Andrew Bynum described it. The Lakers then went into an extremely lengthy practice as Brown attempted to install his defensive philosophy and an offensive system tailored to Bryant and … well, whoever ends up in their starting lineup on Christmas in less than three weeks.
“It’s been interesting, to say the least,” Brown said about his first teaching day in the job he accepted more than six months ago. “Never experienced anything like this, but it’s good to experience new stuff.”
Even though Derek Fisher will lose his job if the Lakers acquire Paul, the players union president thinks the NBA overstepped the intent of its new collective bargaining agreement when David Stern blocked the deal.
“I still disagree with … Commissioner Stern and the owners’ ability to hold up a trade,” said Fisher, who started every game for the past four years at point guard. “In a sense, it flies in the face of all the negotiations we had on the collective bargaining agreement.”
Odom was thought to be headed to New Orleans in the deal for Paul, the Hornets’ superstar point guard, until Stern blocked the deal for what a league spokesman called “basketball reasons.” Gasol was expected to be moved to Houston in a deal that would have reconfigured the Lakers’ roster for their season opener against Chicago.
The Lakers already realized they were in for a major transition after Phil Jackson’s departure cleared the way for Brown’s intensity and defensive focus. The 16-time NBA champions’ threepeat bid ended last spring with a second-round sweep by Dallas.
“It’s always going to be like that with the Lakers,” said Bynum, also the subject of numerous trade rumors surrounding Los Angeles’ desire to land Orlando center Dwight Howard. “Every year I’ve been here, there’s somebody who’s better than me that maybe we’re going to get.”
Los Angeles also signed veteran shooter Jason Kapono, draft picks Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock, and center Chris Daniels on Friday.
Odom was the NBA’s sixth man of the year last season, and the veteran big man has spent all but one season of his 12-year career with Los Angeles’ two NBA teams. He’s also at the nexus of Hollywood’s love affair with the Lakers, given his marriage to Khloe Kardashian and their reality show.
“When a team trades u and it doesn’t go down? Now what?” Odom tweeted Thursday night.
Gasol has played in three NBA finals and won two titles since the Lakers acquired him in early 2008. Although he’s among the NBA’s best big men, some Lakers fans soured on the Spanish national team star for his dismal play down the stretch last season.
If the Lakers empty their enviable frontcourt depth in a deal for Paul, they could face a difficult start to the year when the Bulls visit to start a stretch of five games in seven days. Bynum is suspended for those first five games for his bad behavior in the final game of the Lakers’ playoff loss to Dallas.
Kapono, the former UCLA star from nearby Artesia, joined his sixth NBA team by signing with the Lakers. The two-time 3-Point Shootout winner earned a championship ring with the Miami Heat in 2007, contributing valuable spot-up 3-point shooting.
The Lakers’ perimeter shooting was spotty down the stretch last season, with the club struggling to find a dependable 3-point specialist since trading Sasha Vujacic.