Bryant signs contract to join Lakers

Former Tiger has a spot on L.A.’s summer league team.
Sunday, June 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:45 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rickey Paulding won’t be the only former Missouri player with a chance to play in the NBA near his home.

A day after the Detroit Pistons selected Paulding in the second round of the 2004 NBA Draft, Travon Bryant signed a free-agent contract to play with the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. Bryant, a Long Beach, Calif., native, will play with the Lakers’ summer league team and compete for a spot on the team’s regular-season roster.

Long Beach is about 25 miles south of Los Angeles.

“That’s a big enough incentive right there,” Bryant said. “Just playing at home, having my family and friends here, I think that will keep me grounded and keep me focused and letting me know what I have to do.”

Carmen Wallace, Bryant’s agent, had said the Lakers had expressed much interest of signing Bryant in discussions before the draft.

Wallace said teams liked Bryant’s upside. Even though he spent four years in college, Bryant is 21 and can grow as a player.

“Obviously, I’m going to have to prove myself, but when you look at what’s at stake, it’s definitely not a challenge that I can’t handle,” Bryant said. “I’m just looking forward to getting out there and competing.”

As a senior, Bryant had the best statistics of his career; he scored 10.6 points per game and grabbed 6.6 rebounds. Bryant also made a team-best 41 percent of his 3-point attempts and blocked a career high 45 shots.

If Bryant makes the 15-man roster, he will get the opportunity to play with former Tiger Kareem Rush, who is signed through the 2005-06 season. Toronto drafted Rush in the 2002 with the 20th pick and then sent him to the Lakers in a draft-day trade.

Uncertainty and turmoil surrounds the Lakers, a recent NBA dynasty, after they lost to the Pistons 4-1 in the NBA Finals. Phil Jackson decided to end his coaching tenure. Kobe Bryant, one of the league’s premier guards, will be a free agent. Shaquille O’Neal wants a trade, and Karl Malone as well as guard Derek Fisher chose to exercise their options to become free agents.

Torn ligaments in his right knee are likely to force Malone into retirement, which would leave an opening at the Lakers’ power forward position. Malone’s agent, though, has said if Malone does continue to play, it will be with the Lakers.

The Lakers have two power forwards, Luke Walton and former Illinois player Brian Cook, under contract. Slava Medvedenko’s contract expired at the end of the season.

When Malone missed time because of injuries, Medvedenko received the bulk of the minutes.

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