LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Lakers launch their NBA campaign by hosting the Houston Rockets on Tuesday with All Star guard Kobe Bryant expected to start despite struggling with a pre-season wrist injury.
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant speaks with the media after a team basketball practice at Iolani High School in Honolulu in this Oct. 2, 2007 file photo. [Agencies]
Bryant, one of the NBA's biggest drawcards, has made a habit of hogging the limelight and was the subject of recent trade speculation with the latest rumours linking him to the Chicago Bulls.
Although Lakers head coach Phil Jackson was critical of Bryant's commitment over the weekend, the 62-year-old is confident his top player will remain in Los Angeles for the time being.
"The chances (of Bryant departing) are very slim," Jackson told reporters at the Lakers training facility in El Segundo.
"Not too many people come out and deal honourably at fire-sale time, and this is not fire-sale time. Here we are going on five months and we're happy the season is starting.
"If he (Bryant) can reorient himself or we resolve (things), then we are the team we were last year to start the season. There's nothing but a positive aspect in this regard."
Five months ago, Bryant rocked the Lakers when he told a local radio station he wanted to be traded from the team, before changing his mind a few hours later.
Bryant, who helped the Lakers win three consecutive NBA championships from 2000-2002, has been deeply upset by the team's lack of success over the last three seasons.
The Los Angeles side failed to qualify for the playoffs in their first campaign without Shaquille O'Neal and have been eliminated in the first round for the last two seasons.
An NBA veteran of 11 years, Bryant has also become increasingly disappointed by the team's rebuilding process since O'Neal was traded to Miami in 2004 and allegations that he was instrumental in prompting O'Neal's departure.
Jackson, a shrewd motivator, questioned Bryant's commitment to the team during squad practice on Saturday.
"Obviously he hasn't thrown his heart and soul into performing on the floor," he said. "That hurts me a little bit. He was going to work at this thing and put his full being into this. Right now, he's having a hard time doing that."
Bryant, who missed the Lakers' final exhibition contest on Friday with a sprained right wrist, believes Jackson has little cause for concern.
"You don't have to worry about that," he said. "I am ready to play, period. You don't have to worry about me."
An All Star for the last nine seasons, Bryant will match up on Tuesday with one of the league's other marketing dynamos -- Houston's towering center Yao Ming.
Since the Rockets made Yao the top selection in the 2002 NBA draft, the Chinese has blossomed into one of the game's most dominant players and one of the world's most recognisable athletes.
Tuesday's game is scheduled to start at 1930 local (0230 GMT).