Mature Bryant puts team first

AUBURN HILLS -- The NBA came into this season touting a new generation of stars -- Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

Former golden boys such as Vince Carter, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant were knocked off the marquee -- labeled by Sports Illustrated as the Lost Generation.

Kobe Bryant, if he even took notice, was unfazed.

"I didn't think much about it," he said Wednesday after practice at The Palace. "Personally, I am excited for those young guys. They are extremely exciting to watch, and I am friends with all of them. I am happy for them."

Kobe Bryant said he didn't feel like he had been forgotten or cast aside, but he did admit to feeling a bit older than his 28 years.

"When we went to Washington and Atlanta, and everybody was talking about my matchup with Gilbert Arenas and Joe Johnson," he said. "And I just started feeling really old because that just didn't excite me at all.

"Once you've been in the league for a while you start to understand that the individual things really don't mean anything. It's how you perform as a team. From that standpoint, I see myself aging."

The correct term is maturing. And if the league's marketers have deleted the old No. 8 Kobe Bryant model from their star files, Kobe Bryant seems to have created a new, more relaxed, less self-absorbed, team-oriented No. 24 model.

"The No. 24 is about seizing the day," Kobe Bryant said. "I chose the number because there are 24 hours in a day. It's about taking it one day at a time and having fun playing the game.

"This is my 11th year, and the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter than the one at the beginning. I am just enjoying things more."

He still is capable of putting up 50-plus points in any given game, but that's not his goal anymore. He is averaging 28.8 points, 5.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds.

But more significantly, he has made his teammates better. The Lakers are 30-19 heading into tonight's game against the Pistons.

"I just enjoy the journey a lot more," Kobe Bryant said. "Because of that, I think I have been able to be a lot more patient, more compassionate with my teammates.

"You enjoy the wins, and you don't enjoy the losses, but you see them as a necessary stepping-stone to get to where we want to go. When you have that kind of philosophy, it makes the season a lot easier."

Kobe Bryant was the third-leading vote-getter in the All-Star balloting, so regardless of what the league believes, his popularity remains high. He also will play on the U.S. national team this summer, another indication he has abandoned some of his selfish habits.

So, if Kobe Bryant has been cast aside by the league's star-making machine, Lakers coach Phil Jackson believes it's the best thing for him.

"The marketing part of the game is one area that coaches and people who are in basketball are really disturbed about," Jackson said. "It changes how the game is played. It changes how it is looked at. I think as a result of it, our international game has suffered. Our team game has suffered."

Jackson's point was that the league's "starship," as he called it, promotes individualism over team play and was something Bryant was caught up in most of his career.

"As coaches we all go, 'Oh, this is ridiculous. One man is not going to beat a team,' " Jackson said. "It was one of the encouragements I used with Kobe, and we got criticized for it in the playoffs last year. But I told him, we're not going to beat Phoenix or Dallas or San Antonio in the playoffs if you are trying to score 40 points.

"It's the same old thing we faced in Chicago with Michael Jordan. It has to be a team effort, and Kobe has really bought into it."