EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Flanked by his two 7-footers, a basketball in his hands, another season stretching in front of him, Kobe Bryant narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. This was the same cold stare that had chilled opponent and teammate alike, the same withering glare Bryant had flashed from that podium in Boston on the night the Celtics shoved his Los Angeles Lakers from the NBA Finals. Bryant’s eyes, once again, burned with defiance.
For a moment, anyway. The photographer gave his cue, the flashbulbs popped and Kobe Bryant instantly melted into a smile.
“I’m happy,” he would say some 30 minutes later, still grinning during a media session on the eve of training camp.
Given that the franchise’s fortunes have shifted season-to-season on Bryant’s moods for more than a decade now, this qualified as good news, though hardly surprising. As Bryant said himself: These days, there’s a lot to be happy about.
Andrew Bynum, the Lakers’ 20-year-old center, says he has recovered “100 percent” from his knee injury and is ready to deliver on the promise and talent he showed during the first half of last season. Pau Gasol, whose arrival midway through last season transformed the Lakers into title contenders, has returned, albeit without the burden of being the team’s primary interior defender. Trevor Ariza also has healed, giving the Lakers an athletic perimeter defender, if not another starting option at small forward should Lamar Odom’s transition to the position not go smoothly.