Kobe: Young players deserve votes

ByRAMONA SHELBURNE via <a href="http://espn.go.com/video/sportscenter" title="SportCenter" class="espn_sc_byline">SPORTSCENTER </a>
January 05, 2014, 11:10 PM

&#151; -- LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant said he's flattered that fans have him on track to start in the NBA All-Star Game Feb. 16 in New Orleans, but isn't sure he will be able to return in time from a fractured left tibial plateau to be able to "put my stamp" on the game.

Instead, Bryant thinks fans should vote for some of the younger players in the league, like Portland's Damian Lillard, who are having breakout seasons.

"I really enjoy watching what the younger guys are doing and how they're performing," said Bryant, who was second among Western Conference players in the latest round of All-Star voting, which was released on Dec. 26. "Even though there's so much respect from me to be able to go out there and play for the fans, I'd much rather see the young guys play in the game because they've obviously put the work in to be in it. I'd much rather go out there and see them participate."

Asked when he'd make a decision on whether to play in the game if he was voted in as a starter by the fans, Bryant said, "I probably won't be able to come back soon enough to put my stamp or make my mark on the game, so my advice would be to focus on these younger players, the Damian Lillards of the world, because they're more than deserving to be playing on that weekend."

Bryant said he's been doing a lot of work on the bike and trying to maintain his conditioning and strength as he rehabilitates from his latest injury, which was suffered Dec. 17 in Memphis. The initial projection was that he'd miss six weeks, which would put him out until late January or early February and give him just a week or two on the court before the All-Star Game.

While he said his rehabilitation is going well, it's too early to start talking about or even targeting a return date. Bryant has played in just six games this season. He returned from a ruptured Achilles tendon on Dec. 8, less than eight months after his initial injury on April 12.

Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant leads Western Conference players in the latest round of voting with 850,728 votes. Bryant was second with 723,031 votes.

"That's obviously a sensitive topic for me because you want to feel like you deserve to be in the game and playing," Bryant said. "But then there's the other side of the argument, where you've put in a lot of work over the years and they vote you in, and you want to go out there and show your appreciation. I think it's always a delicate balance."

Bryant said he planned to travel with the Lakers on their upcoming two-game road trip to Dallas (Tuesday) and Houston (Wednesday). The Lakers have lost six of eight games since Bryant went out to fall to 14-19 entering Sunday's game against the Denver Nuggets.

Bryant though, thinks there is still enough time to turn the season around.

"Yeah. We'll be fine," he said. "They've just got to get their [butt] in gear, play both ends of the floor, get a couple games here, go on a nice two-or-three game streak and all of a sudden we're back in the hunt. Start picking it up from there and start chipping away. We'll be fine."

The Lakers have explored trading Bryant's teammate Pau Gasol over the past few weeks, most recently engaging with the Cleveland Cavaliers in a trade for their former center Andrew Bynum, who can be waived before Tuesday to create in excess of $20 million in savings on salaries and luxury taxes for the Lakers.

Bryant said he didn't think the speculation was bothering Gasol because it has been so routine for the Spaniard over the past three seasons.

"The only time he hasn't been in trade rumors is after we won our back-to-back championships," Bryant said. "Seems like every other week he's been in trade discussions. At some point you kind of get used to it. It is what it is. I think he's used to it as well. He's probably numb to the entire process as well.

"If he's not in trade discussions, it's not a normal season. He just goes out and plays. He's done a good job of staying composed. I'm sure there's a lot of frustration inside of him, but he does a good job of staying professional and competitive and going out and playing."

Asked if he'd spoken to Lakers management in support of the four-time All-Star, as he has in the past, Bryant laughed and said: "How much more am I supposed to support a guy? Besides making a Pau flag and riding in there on a horse with Spanish-colored paint on my face, looking like a Spanish William Wallace or something? I don't know what else to say."

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