MIAMI -- Thanks for the All-Star votes, Kobe Bryant wanted his fans to know, but, uh, don't expect him to play in the game.
When Bryant was announced Thursday as a starter in the Feb. 16 game, he said it was "always a tremendous honor" but had no desire to play in New Orleans that weekend.
"No, I don't think so," he said flatly.
"With all due respect to the fans who voted me in, and I certainly appreciate that ... but you've got to do the right thing as well. My feeling is you've got to reward these young guys for the work that they've been putting in," Bryant said.
Cognizant he played only six games this season because of injuries, Bryant lobbied twice this month for younger Western Conference guards to get the starting nod, specifically Portland's Damian Lillard.
Houston's James Harden also was not voted into the game, but Golden State's Stephen Curry, a young guard, will start alongside Bryant.
Lillard and Harden are expected to be added to the West squad next week as reserves chosen by the 15 West coaches.
The NBA almost surely would battle Bryant if he tried to skip the game, which would mark his 16th All-Star appearance.
He is supposed to return from a fractured knee in early February, perhaps playing half a dozen games before All-Star weekend. Bryant said he expected a two-game suspension from the NBA if he skipped it so he might suit up, reluctantly.
"It just means somebody will have to lose a spot, unfortunately," he said. "Our backups will be playing a lot if I go in there and do my two minutes and sit down."
Bryant will lose leverage if he returns soon from his knee injury and plays for the Lakers, which is expected. The NBA does not have an "official rule" for All-Star participation, but it frowns upon healthy players skipping the event.
There was a compromise in 2008, when Bryant played in Lakers games despite a torn ligament in his pinkie. The team heavily lobbied the NBA to keep him out of the All-Star game, but Bryant took part in it. He played only 2 minutes 52 seconds in the game, also in New Orleans.
Bryant, 35, has missed most of this season because of a torn Achilles tendon and his knee injury. He is averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists and 5.7 turnovers a game.
Lillard, 23, is averaging 21.2 points and 5.8 assists. Harden, 24, is averaging 24.3 points and 5.4 assists.
"I mean, they've been playing all season," Bryant said. "I see no reason why they shouldn't be out there doing their thing."
If Bryant doesn't play in the game, he might not be able to say goodbye to NBA Commissioner David Stern, who is retiring after that weekend.
"I've said goodbye to him plenty," Bryant said wryly. "He's a phone call away."
Bryant missed the Lakers' first 19 games while recovering from the torn Achilles, returned for barely a week and was hurt again.
He said he wouldn't see a doctor again this month, making Feb. 4 against Minnesota the earliest he would return. He revealed one positive bit of health news Thursday.
"I don't even worry about my Achilles," he said. "It's not even something that's on the radar anymore."
NASH BACK SOON?
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni was hopeful Steve Nash would return Tuesday against Indiana after sitting out since Nov. 10 because of nerve damage in his back.
"That's what they keep saying. We'll see him and he's going to try it," D'Antoni said. "If it works out, great. If not, we'll re-evaluate him."
Nash, who turns 40 on Feb. 7, is averaging 6.7 points and 4.8 assists in six games.
(c)2014 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services