The seemingly hard-to-picture prospect of Kobe Bryant
and old nemesis Raja Bell
playing for the same team remains alive.
The longtime rivals will sit down for a face-to-face chat Wednesday in Los Angeles to further discuss the feasibility of the Lakers
signing Bell in free agency, sources close to the situation said.
Bell is traveling to Los Angeles this week to watch the ESPYs and has arranged to meet with Bryant to hear the Lakers' face of the franchise make yet another recruiting pitch to the 33-year-old swingman.
Bell acknowledged last week in a phone interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin that he has already fielded several phone calls from Bryant, who was unforgettably clotheslined to the floor by Bell in Game 5 of a testy Suns
-Lakers series in 2006 that L.A. ultimately lost in seven games.
NBA front-office sources say that Bell continues to draw interest from a variety of playoff teams, such as Miami
and San Antonio
. One source said signing with the Heat has essentially been ruled out because of Miami's financial constraints after signing LeBron James
, Chris Bosh
and Mike Miller
to flank the re-signed Dwyane Wade
and Udonis Haslem
. But the Suns are also weighing the prospect of trying to bring Bell back.
Bryant, though, has not abandoned his pursuit and continues to press Bell to join the Lakers, who have only $1.8 million of their mid-level exception left to offer Bell next season after signing Steve Blake
One source close to the situation said memories of Bell's takedown, which earned him a suspension for Game 6 of the series -- the Suns, down 3-2, won the game at Staples Center without him -- are actually one reason why Bryant sees Bell as such an ideal teammate. The premise? Anyone with the gumption to hit Bryant that hard is someone he wants on his team.
The sentiments between them weren't so pleasant during the 2006 playoffs. After the hit, which earned Bell the nickname "Kobe Chopper," Bell publicly blasted Bryant as a "pompous, arrogant individual" who gets preferential treatment from the refs.
"It's a personal thing when someone continually hits you in the face," Bell said after Game 5.
Bryant then answered with a memorable rant during which he repeatedly referred to Bell, who is two years older, as some "kid."
"Does he know me?" Bryant said. "Do I know this guy? I don't know this guy. I might have said one word to this guy. I don't know this kid. I think he overreacts to stuff. ... I don't know this kid. I don't need to know this kid. I don't want to. We go out there, we play the game and leave it at that. Maybe he wasn't hugged enough as a kid. I look at him a little bit, he gets a little insecure or something. I don't know."
Four years later, Bryant and Bell know each other much better and have buried the animosity.
And the two-time defending champions still have an opening in their backcourt after signing Blake and Monday's re-signing of Derek Fisher
, although sources say Shannon Brown
has not abandoned his interest in returning to the Lakers for next season's chase of a three-peat.
Bell played only six games last season because of a wrist injury. He began the season with the Charlotte Bobcats
, then was dealt to the Golden State Warriors
in November as part of the Stephen Jackson
trade. The Warriors released him in March, but Bell has been pursued by several playoff teams since free agency began July 1 now that he's recovered from December surgery.