- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 13, 2009

ORLANDO, FLA. (AP) - With LeBron James possibly headlining a stellar class, the 2010 free agency season has already been nicknamed the “Summer of LeBron.”

There apparently will be no “Summer of Kobe” next month.

Kobe Bryant can become a free agent after this season, but he said Saturday his status “won’t be an issue.”

Asked if he could imagine playing for anyone other than the Los Angeles Lakers next year, Bryant simply said, “No.”

Though he never said he wouldn’t become a free agent, Bryant acted as if he wasn’t even aware of his option to put himself on the market in July.

“I have a decision about my future?” he said.

Reminded he could terminate his contract, Bryant said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Bryant has spent his entire career with the Lakers. He considered leaving as a free agent for the Clippers in 2004, then said he wanted to be traded two summers ago after the Lakers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for a second consecutive year.

The Lakers never gave too much thought to trading him then, and it doesn’t seem they need to worry about losing him now.

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NO JAMEER-ICLE: Magic point guard Jameer Nelson has been frustrated with his return in the NBA finals, but he doesn’t believe he’s disrupting the team’s chemistry.

Nelson, who came back for the finals after being out since February with a shoulder injury, played the fourth quarter and overtime in place of starter Rafer Alston in the team’s Game 4 loss to the Lakers. But Nelson has hardly played up to his All-Star form.

“I don’t feel responsible,” Nelson said Saturday. “I’m disappointed with the team. I’m not a savior. I’m not a hero. I’m not a comic. I’m just going out there to play the game like everybody else. I didn’t come back to save the team, I just came back to help the team.”

Nelson had two points, three turnovers and three assists in 26 minutes in Game 4. Alston had 11 points on 5-for-13 shooting, two assists and one turnover in 27 minutes.

Alston has been the Magic’s starting point guard since he was acquired from the Houston Rockets at the trade deadline. The move was made after Nelson went down from what was then-called season-ending surgery on his right shoulder.

Alston complained about his minutes after Game 1 and again after Game 4. He said he had not met with coach Stan Van Gundy and that the two weren’t planning a meeting about his minutes.

Alston also said he had friends who texted and called who were even more upset.

“They were ready to fly in and wring his neck, but that’s the way the game goes,” Alston said. “Friends don’t understand that. They want their buddy in the game. It just is tough. You think you’re going to go back in there.”

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DALY AWARD: Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was happy to learn that Tommy Heinsohn was honored with the inaugural Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award.

Heinsohn coached the Boston Celtics to two NBA titles after his Hall of Fame playing career. The award is named after Daly, who died last month from cancer.

Daly, a former Magic coach, is best known for leading the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back NBA titles and coaching the original Dream Team to the 1992 Olympic gold medal. Van Gundy said Saturday he has great admiration for both.

“I don’t know Tom Heinsohn at all other than what I’ve observed, but there aren’t many guys with greater enthusiasm for basketball or greater ambassadors of the game,” Van Gundy said. “And certainly not one who is more devout and more loyal to one team than Tom is.”

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PRAISING PAU: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a special assistant working with the Lakers’ post players, and Patrick Ewing is one of Orlando’s assistant coaches.

Pau Gasol might make a good big man coach, too, based on the way players on both teams praised the Lakers forward for his offensive talents.

“You watch, his skill level is unbelievable,” Los Angeles forward Lamar Odom said. “It’s up there with the best post players ever.”

Gasol is comfortable turning in any direction and shooting with either hand when he gets the ball in the post, and he has a good jumper for when he steps away from the basket. Hubie Brown, his former coach in Memphis and now an ESPN analyst, raved about Gasol’s skills last week.

Though one of the NBA’s most dominant players, Orlando center Dwight Howard is often criticized because he isn’t polished offensively. He knows he needs to get better, and he sees one place he can look.

“There’s a lot of stuff I can learn from a guy like Pau Gasol,” Howard said. “My teammates told me every time he catches it in the paint, he never brings it down, he keeps it up. So I’ve been watching a lot of stuff on him and trying to put that in my game.”

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Associated Press writer Antonio Gonzalez contributed to this report.

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