Lakers relish role as underdog

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- No one expects much from the Los Angeles Lakers this season, and that's just fine with the Lakers heading into the start of training camp on Tuesday.

"I love the fact that pretty much everyone has written us off," Lakers coach Byron Scott said Monday. "That's obviously fuel to the fire. Obviously I'm going to use that to my ability to talk to our players about how people are viewing us as a basketball team. We're going to go out there tomorrow and get a lot of work in. I love the fact that everybody is doubting us."

One of the main reasons that Scott believes the Lakers will be better than most think is the return of Kobe Bryant, who played in only six games last season while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and then suffered a fracture in his left knee when he returned.

"I expect him to play 82 games and to play well," Scott said. "He's a guy who's still going to average 23, 24 points per game. The biggest thing is for him to stay healthy and keeping his minutes to a minimum where he can play those 82 games."

Bryant said he felt good and was ready for the start of camp but had mixed emotions entering his 19th season.

"It's a mixture of things," Bryant said. "It's a mixture of excitement, it's a mixture of a little nervousness, it's a mixture of rage. It's a mixture of a lot of things. I'm trying to see if I can prove to myself that I can be myself. All those words and the doubts add fuel to that."

Bryant has read some of the preseason predictions for the Lakers but said he won't focus on that as much as the goals he has for himself and the team.

"I haven't really paid attention to it too much," Bryant said. "I know generally what the sentiment is, but I haven't paid attention to it. I don't think the guys should, either. They should focus on our mission, which is just to get better every single day and focus on the details. If we do that, everything will take care of itself.

"Right now honestly I'm kind of in a different place. It's really about maximizing our potential. Our philosophy is get better every single day. I think when that happens, results will come. Proving people wrong will come, but our focus must be on ourselves."

Scott, on the other hand, doesn't have a problem using the negative preseason predictions as fuel for the Lakers' fire heading into training camp.

"I've always had a chip on my shoulder," Scott said. "I think we have a bunch of players in this locker room that have that same chip. That's a motivational factor that we can use and go out and play hard every single night. That's what we have to do and what we're going to do. We're going to surprise some people. ... I hope a lot of our guys feel slighted. We'll see what happens."

Scott said he would monitor the minutes of Bryant and Steve Nash during the season and would limit them during practice. When the Lakers have two-a-day practices, Bryant and Nash will practice just once or some days not at all.

"Both those guys have earned the right just to go one time," Scott said. "It might be a day or two where they don't go at all. It all depends on how they feel, and a lot of that is up to them and [trainer] Gary Vitti. I want them fresh in April. We have to decide what we're going to do on back-to-back nights as well.

"I still don't have a lot of answers, to be honest with you. There are still a lot of things I have to find out with the guys we had. That starts tomorrow. I'm just as anxious to find out where we are as a basketball team. I'm sure those guys are just as anxious to get started."

Nash played in only 15 games because of nerve-root irritation in his left leg and said he feels great going into training camp but didn't want to make any promises on his health this season, which he said would likely be his last.

"I felt great this summer," Nash said. "But it's a lot different working out in the gym on your own and the pounding up and down when the season starts. There are no guarantees. I'm just trying to enjoy every day that I have."

Bryant was one of the biggest proponents of the Lakers' hiring Scott in the offseason. Bryant played with Scott in his rookie season and has a good relationship with him. The two talked and texted on a regular basis this offseason and say they are on the same page going into training camp.

"It's a philosophical thing," Bryant said. "He agrees with me, and it's the Lakers organization. We're here for one reason only, and that's to hang championship banners, not division banners or conference banners or anything else. We don't do that. We focus on winning championships, and that's very important for our young guys to understand."

Scott has said he will look to reduce Bryant's minutes this season to preserve him for the end of games and later in the season. Bryant scoffed at the notion that he would be against such restrictions coming off his injuries at 36 years old.

"I don't see it as much of a big deal," Bryant said. "I'm kind of sensing today that it's a hot topic of conversation, but I don't understand it too much. As you get older, you have to accept some things that you can and can't do. I don't see it being much of an issue."

Bryant, who signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension last season, said he can see the finishing line of his career now. At the end of his current contract he will have played 20 seasons, all with the Lakers, and said he couldn't help but get emotional as he watched Derek Jeter finish his 20-year career with the New York Yankees.

"The most touching moment for me was watching him walk off the field and walk through the tunnel and head back to the locker room," Bryant said. "That's the most touching part because it's the last time it's going to happen and you put yourself in that position and imagine what that would feel like. Even though technically the game-winning single seemed to be the most touching thing, for me it was quite the moment where he was walking off the field that was most moving."

"You always try to appreciate the journey and take it all in because you'll blink and it'll all be gone."