DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The media horde swarming Phil Jackson and the Lakers is significantly smaller than the last time the team was in Hawaii.
Lakers find peace in Hawaii
Bryant and Jackson find the atmosphere a lot different from their last visit to the islands
Kobe Bryant called it coming "full circle."
It's been nine years since Bryant arrived in Honolulu as a recent high school graduate preparing for his first training camp with the Los Angeles Lakers.
He returned to the Stan Sheriff Center yesterday as the Lakers opened preparations for the coming campaign, now the seasoned veteran on a youthful Los Angeles roster.
"My first camp my rookie year was here in Hawaii. Just to see the growth and the maturation from nine years ago to now, it's pretty cool," Bryant said after the Lakers' first workout of training camp. "And being able to do it with one organization is a blessing."
Although the surroundings are familiar for Bryant, this year's Lakers bear little resemblance to the team that held camp here just two years ago.
Bryant is one of just five holdovers from the 2003-04 team that began its run to the NBA Finals with their training camp in Honolulu. And the atmosphere at yesterday's practice was decidedly more mellow than when the Lakers last visited Hawaii.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson was again surrounded by cameras and microphones, this time answering questions about his return after a year away from the game. But the media circus that accompanied the Lakers here in 2003 has dissipated considerably.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kobe Bryant put up a shot over Scottie Pippen yesterday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
John Black, the team's public relations director, said close to 80 mainland media members showed up two years ago to chronicle the debut of a lineup featuring Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton and to follow Bryant's legal issues.
Black estimated about 20-30 made the trip this year as the Lakers are coming off a 34-48 season and finished well short of the playoffs last spring.
"Last time we had four Hall-of-Famers on the team, we were the favorites to win the whole thing. This year people aren't even picking us to make the playoffs," said forward Luke Walton, a rookie on the 2003-04 team.
"It's different in that we're younger, more inexperienced, but it's fun that way. We have to step up our game and step up to the challenge to get into the playoffs."
Although the drama factor has dropped off compared to the Lakers' last trip to Hawaii, this year's camp isn't without compelling storylines -- most notably Jackson's return and his reunion with Bryant.
"It feels like I've been away, but it's like a hiatus, a sabbatical," said Jackson, who has coached nine NBA championship teams. "I just went away for a little bit and it seems like I was just here a year ago, but it really was two."
Jackson was part of the exodus from the Lakers following the 2003-04 season and was critical of Bryant in a book published last year.
But both appeared ready to move forward at yesterday's practice.
"There's been a lot said about the relationship from outside parties as well as myself," Bryant said. "Ultimately, we've been through so many battles, and we've been successful in the majority of them, so there's a respect there and for him to come back means a lot to me."
Said Jackson: "We've got a relationship that's been very close for six years and we've had a lot of intense feelings between us and a lot of wonderful moments have happened for us as a basketball team and as a coach and a player. So there's a lot of depth to it."
While Jackson's teams of the past were annually expected to contend for the title, this year's Lakers aren't looking that far ahead as they work to integrate the new faces into the system and look for a return to the playoffs.
"We're just playing to execute as well as we possibly can, that's all we can think about," Bryant said.
The Lakers will practice at the Sheriff Center through Monday and face the Golden State Warriors in preseason games Oct. 11 and 12.
The Warriors also opened camp yesterday and are practicing at BYU-Hawaii's Cannon Activities Center in Laie.
With six more days of practices and two games in Honolulu ahead of them, Jackson said being away from Los Angeles for training camp has advantages for his relatively young team.
"The obvious comfort zone is for us to be in L.A.," Jackson said. "But a bunch of our season is played on the road, a bunch of our time is spent on the road. So for this team getting to know each other, this is one of the best places in the world to do that."