Kobe Bryant Denies Going to Lakers Practices Despite Lance Stephenson Comments

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2019

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 26: Former NBA player, Kobe Bryant, looks on during the game against the Las Vegas Aces and the Los Angeles Sparks on May 26, 2019 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE  (Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Although Los Angeles Lakers guard Lance Stephenson recently told TMZ Sports Kobe Bryant is "always" at the team's practices, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reported that is not the case.

His source? Kobe Bryant.

On ESPN's First Take on Tuesday, Smith revealed that the Black Mamba told him he has "never been to a single practice":

"I spoke to [Bryant] yesterday. He says, quote: 'I have never been to a single practice.' Those were his exact words. Obviously there's going to be people who believe he's lying. I'm going to take him at his word because I don't have any proof that he's lying, number one. Number two, it's pretty easy to disprove. 

"[...] But Kobe is not just smart, he's brilliant, so you have to also pick apart his words from time to time. When he says 'I haven't been to a single practice,' that does not mean he hasn't been to the Lakers facility. It does not mean he didn't have conversations with teammates...I definitely believe it's plausible that Kobe could have talked to individual players about basketball, but I think the reason why Kobe felt the need to say that is because of something he had reiterated to me weeks ago. He don't have nothing to do with this Lakers mess."

Per Smith, Bryant didn't deny that he has shown up to the team's facility or that he has talked to any of the players. However, it would appear he is not as involved as Stephenson suggested.

Along with saying that Bryant had been present at practices, Stephenson told TMZ Sports that the Black Mamba has "definitely" served as a mentor while retired:

Bryant's former agent, Rob Pelinka, is the team's general manager.

The Lakers have been in rebuild mode dating back to the final years of Bryant's career and are in the midst of a franchise-record six-year playoff drought. As the losing seasons have piled up, so too have high draft picks. As a result, the core of the roster is comprised mainly of four-time MVP LeBron James and promising young players, such as Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.

While James—a three-time champion—can serve as a mentor to his younger teammates, he does not yet have the experience of winning in L.A. Bryant won five championships in 20 years with the Lakers between 1996 and 2016.

Having Bryant around to serve as a mentor could be helpful for the future of the franchise, but it does not appear as though he is involved with the current roster.