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Injury, trade uncertainty leave Bryant and Kidd in All-Star limbo

Saturday, February 16, 2008


AP Basketball Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- Kobe Bryant will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star game, and Jason Kidd will be in the lineup for the East.


But with Bryant's right pinkie in a splint and Kidd stuck somewhere between New Jersey and Dallas in the midst of a trade on hold, nothing was a guarantee for either player Friday.

Bryant said he'd "rather not play" Sunday night, but doesn't think he has a choice. NBA policy dictates that if a player is healthy enough to play in the final game before the break and the first one after, he won't be excused from the All-Star game. Bryant is hardly pleased with the rule.

"But what can you do?" he said. "I don't want to be suspended, miss a game."

It wasn't clear if Bryant would in fact be suspended if he sat out. He expected the Lakers to talk to the league about his options, and couldn't say for sure if he would play.

"Honestly, I don't know what to tell you," Bryant said. "I'm not really sure where the NBA stands. I have no idea."

Bryant played Wednesday night in Minnesota, then returned to Los Angeles and was diagnosed with a torn ligament in the finger. He declined the doctor's recommendation of surgery, even though he said Lakers owner Jerry Buss encouraged such an option to prevent a longer-lasting injury.

Bryant already pulled out of Saturday's 3-point contest and was replaced by Dirk Nowitzki -- who's still awaiting word if he's getting a new teammate.

The Mavericks and Nets agreed to a deal Wednesday that would have sent Kidd to Dallas. But Devean George exercised his right in the collective bargaining agreement to block the trade. Nets president Rod Thorn said George had asked for a trade earlier in the season.

So the Kidd trade rumors, which have dragged on for most of the season, showed up in New Orleans with him.

"It is what is. I don't know if I'm going to be with the Nets or Mavs or whoever it may be, but this is one of the biggest stages for the NBA until the playoffs start," Kidd said. "It just happens that me being traded or me being on hold until being traded has taken on a life of its own and it's a big topic right now."

Thorn said George's stance hadn't changed as of Friday morning, which spares the NBA from having to figure out what to do when the starting point guard for the East happens to play for a team in the West.

"I haven't played for a Western Conference team. So I think I would be on the East," Kidd said. "It might have been different had I played last night for the Mavs, but I think everything will work itself out and I'll be on the East for right now."

It's the second straight year that Kidd and Bryant were in the All-Star weekend headlines. Kidd believed a trade was possible last year before the deadline and the Lakers were a candidate. A deal was almost made days later before falling through when the Lakers wouldn't include center Andrew Bynum, which angered Bryant.

So he knows how Nowitzki must feel.

"I saw him walking around," Bryant said. "I don't know how he's dealing with this -- that close to getting Jason Kidd."

The Lakers aren't the only ones holding their breath over Bryant's injury. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said coach Mike Krzyzewski called him in the morning when he heard news that could be damaging to the Americans' gold-medal hopes.

"I'm pulling for Kobe and I want him healthy because I want him in our uniform this summer," Colangelo said.

Bryant, who had to withdraw from U.S. teams in 2003, '04 and '06 before finally making his debut last summer, says he will play in the Olympics.

"I'm not missing this summer," he said. "Unless something drastic happens, God forbid. I've been waiting to play on this team for too long."

Bryant, who won his second All-Star game MVP award last year, is among the NBA's fiercest competitors. But don't expect to see him asking West coach Byron Scott to put him in at the end if Sunday's game is close.

"In my youth, yeah," he said. "In my old age of 29, no."

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