What's Up With Kobe?
"He's having a tough time getting that speed of his back," says Winter, who has been one of Bryant's mentors for nearly a decade. "He's not as explosive as he used to be. Maybe he's protecting himself because of his knee (which underwent off-season surgery). Maybe he's doing it subconsciously. He says he feels ok, but you know Kobe. He's not one to make any excuses."
It's going to take time for the injury to heal, Winter said, adding that he hopes Bryant doesn't reinjure the knee trying to come back too soon.
Winter, a Lakers consultant who spends several days each month with the team, said he hasn't insisted that Bryant sit out (Bryant probably wouldn't heed that anyway), but Winter has urged him to be careful.
Meanwhile, Bryant is no where near the player who led the league in scoring last season. "He doesn't seem to mind distributing the ball to his teammates," Winter observed. "He knows he's not as explosive as he used to be. He really doesn't have the ability he used to have."
Winter said he hopes Bryant can regain much of his form over the next two to three weeks, as the season runs well into December.
With Bryant taking a slower pace, Lamar Odom has stepped up his energy and his aggressiveness, something Winter has called for.
"Sometimes he's too aggressive," Winter said with a chuckle, adding that Odom still doesn't fit well in the triangle offense.
"He needs to find a comfort zone in this offense," Winter said. "He still wants to take off on his own and attack the basket."
In a sense, Odom's ability to attack the basket outside the offense is important to the team, Winter said, especially with Bryant unwilling and unable to do so.
Actually, both Bryant and Odom need to continue to find some comfort with their new identities in the offense, Winter said, explaining that their comfort will be important to the rest of the team's growth in the offense.
All in all, Bryant and Odom "have done a very good job together," Winter said. "But now we're getting over the easy part of our schedule and things are going to get a little tougher. They've worked well together, and that will be even more important now."
THE BIG KID
Winter acknowledged that he and coach Phil Jackson have been caught unawares by the play of 19-year-old center Andrew Bynum. "The big kid has come along nicely. He's surprised me several times with his play. He's still inconsistent, but you expect that from a very young player. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has encouraged him a great deal and given him some confidence."
Also deserving credit in Bynum's coaching are Brian Shaw and Kurt Rambis, who have really worked with the kid in terms of the triangle offense, Winter added.
Add Winter to the list of people who are pondering rookie Jordan Farmar's move to replace Smush Parker as the team's starting point guard.
"If we continue to start Smush, he's got to step up and give us more consistency," Winter said. "In spots, Smush does well both on offense and defense. It's a question of consistency. Somebody might beat him out if he doesn't get more consistent."
Winter confirmed that that somebody would likely be Farmar, who has played well.
Such a move wouldn't happen immediately, however, as Farmar is nursing a sore ankle.
With youngsters like Farmar and Bynum and with veteran players like Mo Evans and Vlade Radmanovich adjusting to the triangle, Jackson is taking a light-handed approach, as the coach himself still recovers from hip-replacement surgery.
"He's been very patient with these guys," Winter said. "His patience has run out at times in the past. But Phil hasn't been too tough, hasn't been too demanding with these guys."
That's a good approach, Winter said, because the team needs time to grow.
Evans and Radmanovich, in particular, are very much "in the learning process," Winter said. "You gotta have patience with them. It takes time. Both of them can go through the motions with the offense now. But to really be effective you have to know how to make it work. That takes time."
Evans' playing time is going to be limited because he plays behind Bryant, Winter pointed out. For Evans to see more playing time, the team will have to work him in at both the guard and forward spots.
"He's a good athlete, very competitive," Winter noted.
As for Kwame Brown returning from injury, Winter said, "He's gonna help us a great deal if he really gets out there and works at it and competes."
Brown hasn't done that yet, Winter said, and the coaches are trying to decide if it's the lingering effect of his shoulder injury or "just his nature."
Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, a comprehensive oral history of the Lakers.