LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant begins the second half of his second decade with the Los Angeles Lakers in unfamiliar surroundings, and that's not just his new living arrangements with his impending divorce.
For starters, the Lakers aren't even the most compelling team in Los Angeles -- for maybe the first time ever.
The Clippers landed Chris Paul when the Lakers' own bid for the superstar point guard was rejected by the league, putting the sad-sack, second-team Staples Center tenants under the NBA spotlight while the Lakers regroup. Bryant realizes that process could be more complicated than anybody expected.
The Lakers are still learning the systems of new coach Mike Brown, who replaced 11-time champion Phil Jackson. Los Angeles also must figure out how to thrive without top reserve and locker-room leader Lamar Odom, inexplicably traded for essentially nothing to the rival Dallas Mavericks.
So while Paul and Blake Griffin scheme ways to take over the league, Bryant is hoping the Lakers have enough remaining talent and veteran savvy just to contend again.
Bryant isn't complaining about a brutal preseason for his Lakers -- not yet, anyway.
"I think they've proven here that they can build a team that can compete for championships, and I'm sure they're going to do that now," Bryant said. "I don't expect this to be a situation like it was in 2005 when (the organization said), 'You know what? We're just going to cut payroll, we're going to cut everything, not contend for a championship.' I don't expect that to be the case. I expect them to try to be aggressive and make moves to build a championship team, and if that's the case, I'll stand out of the way and let them do what they do."
Bryant references 2005 because it marked the start of the least successful two-year period of Bryant's 15 years with the Lakers, and eventually led Bryant to demand a trade in May 2007. The Lakers instead traded for Pau Gasol a few months later, setting the club on course for three straight NBA finals.
"The one time I got really upset is because I came to the realization that they were just cutting back," Bryant said. "They were having me run around, score 40 points a night and generate revenue, and not pay anybody. If that's the direction they want to go in, then let me go. I don't think that's the case. You can see they're trying to make moves ... so I'll just stand out of their way and let them do it."
Yet it's tough to comprehend Odom's trade as anything but a salary dump, and the likelihood of more moves decreases with each passing day. The Lakers realize they'll probably head into their Christmas opener against Chicago with Gasol in the lineup and fellow trade bait Andrew Bynum on the roster, if not in uniform while he serves a season-opening five-game suspension.
Brown stepped into chaos just when he hoped to be teaching the Lakers, with Gasol missing his first practice and Odom never even showing up after the longtime Cleveland coach spent the offseason planning for a different roster. Brown has tried to tailor his schemes to the Lakers' strengths, incorporating aspects of Jackson's triangle offense and his own fierce defensive philosophy.
Brown already has decided he'll keep veteran Derek Fisher in the starting point guard spot while bumping Metta World Peace -- the former Ron Artest -- to the bench, where he'll be expected to lead the Lakers' second unit.
"We're going to try to emphasize what these players do well, and what will help them to get in position to be successful," Brown said. "I'm not in here trying to change everything. This is a good team that's won a lot of games over the last several years. We just want to enhance that and bring out their best."
Matt Barnes is likely to be the Lakers' new starting small forward, while Gasol will carry the early-season weight in the low post while Bynum sits. Although Los Angeles' depth was eroded by Odom's departure and reserve guard Shannon Brown's move to Phoenix, the Lakers haven't really replaced them, signing only journeymen Josh McRoberts and Jason Kapono.
It all adds up to the makings of a strange season for the 16-time champion Lakers, but they're not ready to rule out a run at a 17th ring.
"It's going to be different, but we still have a lot of talent," Gasol said. "We can still have a great season."