Kobe talks about the Knicks  and the 2010 free agency class…

noesNewsday: Kobe Bryant says he expects the Knicks to be major players in the 2010 free-agency sweepstakes. And one of the reasons for that is Mike D’Antoni.

“Obviously it’s a huge market,” Bryant said after the Lakers’ entertaining 116-114 win over the Knicks on Tuesday night at Staples Center. “But players really love D’Antoni, love playing for him.”

Bryant and D’Antoni have a relationship that goes back to when the Knicks coach, a former Italian League star, was Bryant’s idol growing up in Italy while his father, Joe (Jellybean) Bryant, played in the country. Kobe and D’Antoni were together on the gold medal-winning Olympic team this summer in Beijing and, despite a few past playoff wars between the Lakers and Suns, the two have maintained strong mutual respect.

After Tuesday’s game, Bryant came away impressed with the new-look Knicks under D’Antoni.

“They execute so well . . . they play at a great tempo and great pace,” he said. “They’re getting the system. It’s coming.”

Bryant could opt out this coming summer, a year in advance of the 2010 frenzy. With the Lakers coming off a trip to the NBA Finals and already off to a great start (21-3) this season, it is highly unlikely Bryant is looking to go anywhere. A year ago, however, he made a public trade demand he later rescinded. It briefly had the Knicks thinking he could come to New York. Now, it’s LeBron James who tops the Knicks’ list.

And Kobe, like everyone else, is quite aware of it.

“Yeah, and that’s all I’m going to say about it,” he said with a laugh. “I ain’t getting caught up in that.