Posted Sep 25 2010 9:20PM
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Some guy named Kobe Bryant stood at one end of the crowded gym Saturday with a big gold trophy that seemed to represent an NBA championship, and few in the vicinity did more than turn their head for a glance.
"It's definitely a little different," Luke Walton said, standing about 20 yards away.
Different than the first day around the Lakers a year ago, different than a lot of first days around the Lakers before and, come to think of it, different than a lot of kind of days around the travelling reality show.
This was as close to sneaking into the new season as possible for a reigning champion, with all the klieg lights tilted toward South Florida for months and maybe, hopefully, some of the crews from E! headed there as well. The Lakers were awash in basketball conversation, of all things, during the annual media day, as opposed to reporting to camp in 2009 to get a lot of questions about Lamar Odom and his Kardashian wedding, Derek Fisher and his book release, and newcomer Ron Artest and his Artestness.
"Normally at the start of the season, we're always the biggest story, just being in L.A. and being the Lakers," Walton said. "And this year it's definitely Miami out there. So it's a little different. But we don't mind. It's just a little more low key for us."
Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
"Not a bad thing at all," he said.
There was news, a day after Phil Jackson guaranteed at least an interesting start by leaving open the possibility he will coach beyond this season. Andrew Bynum said playing in the postseason made the injury to his right knee worse, a surprise given that the Lakers and Bynum said repeatedly at the time that could not happen. Apparently, it could and did.
All the timelines for his return have gone out the window. The July 28 surgery turned out to be more extensive than originally planned, which led to the recovery being more involved, which led to the projection that he would probably sit the entire exhibition schedule and the start of the regular season, which led to late Saturday morning and Bynum standing near midcourt of the practice facility.
"I'm hoping for the end of November," he said in the latest update. "The docs are telling me it could be somewhere around there, but there's no exact date."
Meaning it could be later, with the Lakers at least comforted in knowing they have gone long stretches before with Bynum either out or hurting and literally handled it at a championship level. Pau Gasol will probably move to center, Odom will move into the opening lineup, and the biggest concern is probably that 37-year-old free-agent acquisition Theo Ratliff will have to clock in at center now rather than store energy for possible playoff use.
There was barely any other noise, though, as the threepeat quest began with most of the core returning and joined by veteran signees Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Ratliff. Not exactly LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and that's the point.
"Who's the favorite?" Derek Fisher said, repeating the question. "Well, we're the champs so we view ourselves as the favorite. I don't think that will ever change as long as we have the guys that we have. It doesn't matter what other teams have been able to do. We feel confident about what we can accomplish as a team, but we know there'll be hard work behind it."
Even with the unusually understated beginning, however briefly it holds. They leave for London on Thursday, practice there, play the Timberwolves on Monday in a beautiful arena on the banks of the Thames, head to Barcelona on Oct. 5 and play a Spanish team on Oct. 7 before returning to Los Angeles the next day. That will be a spotlight moment, multiplied with Gasol playing in his native Spain.
The Lakers don't get relative calm very often and they never maintain it, so Saturday was a different kind of day. It was just a start, but it was welcome.
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