Lonzo Ball handles the ball in practice at the UCLA Health Training Center on Dec. 16, 2017.
(Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)

Ahead of Kobe's Jerseys Retirement, Lakers Keep Focus on Game

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

The Lakers are two days away from honoring one of the greatest legends in franchise history. But the current players are focused on the team they will be lining up against.

Kobe Bryant’s jerseys will be retired into the STAPLES Center rafters on Monday, yet head coach Luke Walton has his attention consumed by a matchup against the champion Golden State Warriors.

“When it happens, it’ll be a little bit emotional,” Walton said of the retirement ceremony. “Honestly, leading up to that game I’m going to be thinking 99.5 percent about our chances of how to beat the Warriors and the best way to play them; and 0.5 percent (about) Kobe’s jersey.”

That’s not to say Walton isn’t excited for his former teammate. But he maintained that “the players and coaches have work to do that night.”

Winners of two championships together, Walton and Bryant still keep in touch, though not often.

Surely they’ll share a laugh on Monday, as Walton recalled when he was hired as the Lakers’ head coach. Bryant ribbed him with a comparison to Phil Jackson, because each was an “average player with a bad back.”

As coach, Walton will have the uncommon challenge knowing a player will float in and out of the lineup.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will likely miss a few games over the next month due to a legal matter that temporarily restricts his travel to only within the state.

Fortunately for Walton, KCP’s replacement in Thursday’s game in Cleveland — rookie Josh Hart — stepped up to the challenge with 11 points, 10 rebounds and good defense in his first career start.

Walton said that he might have others start for Caldwell-Pope depending on matchups. Still, Hart made a strong case to be the replacement, and he credited his success to playing four years of college ball at Villanova.

“You’ve grown from being a freshman trying to fight for minutes to being a senior starter,” Hart said. “I’ve done all that, so I know the mentality you have to take. I’m mature. I know to play my role. If something goes down then step up.”

And like his coach, Hart knows Monday’s Kobe ceremony will be special, but has his mind trained on the task at hand.

“Right now I’m just focusing on Golden State,” Hart said, “But after that I’m gonna sit back and be like, ‘Yo, that was pretty cool.’”

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