- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

BOSTON | When Kobe Bryant voiced his desire that the Los Angeles Lakers trade him last summer, and even in the weeks leading up to the preseason, his chief concern was that the players around him couldn’t help him contend for a championship.

Coach Phil Jackson said Bryant’s belief stemmed from the rest of the Lakers struggling in the second half of last season. When that happened, Jackson said Bryant grew frustrated and tried to do it all, and the Lakers fell in the first round of the playoffs for a second straight year.

But once Bryant came to grips with the fact the Lakers wouldn’t trade him, he met with Jackson to figure out a way to get more out of his supporting cast.

“When we met earlier this fall, we resolved that it wasn’t going to happen again like [the second half of last year] to us,” Jackson said of Bryant shouldering the load and seeing no payoff. “So he’s been really inclusive and encouraged his teammates even to the point of getting guys going late in the ballgame when he feels guys need help or support to pick their game up. So that’s been the key for us this year.”

Bryant’s new approach caused his teammates to pay attention more closely to how he approached games and practices. They began to understand how and why he did things the way he did.

“He’s very demanding,” guard Sasha Vujacic said. “And at the beginning, my first year, I had to understand his way of being competitive and the way things are.”

The Lakers observed how Bryant showed up early for practices and games and began working on his own. They noticed how he stayed much longer after practices as well.

Eventually, they began to try to match him.

“You try to compete against him, and there’s no competing against him,” forward Lamar Odom said. “If we have a 10 a.m. practice, Kobe is there at 8:45 preparing to be the best. And some of that has rubbed off on me and my teammates, and that’s why I’m sitting here talking to you today.”

With his teammates responding in a positive way and showing a desire to make sacrifices similar to his own to improve, Bryant felt encouraged. That encouragement help him trust his teammates even more both in practices and in games - even in pressure situations.

In Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, Bryant took only three shots in the first half against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. He wanted to give his teammates opportunities to help them find their rhythm and improve their confidence.

“I think it was just an evolution,” Bryant said of the improved relationship between him and his teammates. “The most important step towards trusting my teammates was seeing that they wanted it as much as I do. So by me seeing them work hard … I saw they wanted to put for that effort. It made it a lot easier.”

Rondo grows up

When Kevin Garnett first arrived in Boston, he asked a member of the staff to get him some film on second-year point guard Rajon Rondo so he could familiarize himself with Rondo’s style of play.

“To be honest with you I really didn’t know about Rondo before getting here,” Garnett said. “I knew about Sebastian [Telfair, who was traded to Minnesota], I knew about [Delonte] West [traded to Seattle] just from playing and all that. But I really didn’t know too much. I knew [Rondo] was scrappy. Watched him in college a couple times, was aware of his name and all that, but really couldn’t go into detail about his game.”

Despite serving almost entirely as a backup last season, Rondo was called on to start and serve as table-setter for a Celtics attack that featured Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. That required rapid development in a short time, but Rondo has delivered, helping the team to the NBA Finals.

“He grew up over the season, but at the same time he’s gained respect from the guys who have been in the league a long time, and sometimes as a young guy that’s hard to do,” Garnett said of Rondo, who has averaged 10.6 points and 5.1 assists in his second season. “The only way to do that is through consistency in what you do in the weight room, on the court, listening. I think everybody is proud of Rondo this year. … I’m happy for him.”

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