Kobe, Phil, Fish and … Dennis Rodman?

Perhaps the most interesting thing we learned prior to Lakers practice Monday at the team’s training facility wasn’t about Lamar Odom’s role, Andrew Bynum’s health or Sun Yue’s nickname. Instead, a local reporter asked Bryant what he thought about Phil Jackson calling Dennis Rodman – not Michael Jordan – the best athlete he ever coached.

“I do not disagree with that at all,” said Bryant. “People obviously think of Jordan first, but as an athlete, Dennis was a freak of nature. In terms of his size, he ran like a deer, he could run all day, he could defend from the one position all the way up to the five. Look at one series when he was guarding Jordan when he was with Detroit, and fast forward to when he was with the Bulls and he was guarding Shaq. You don’t see athletes like that too often.”

Interesting, right? Kobe went on to describe one training camp practice lineup that included a team of No. 24, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, a group Bryant said made it difficult to even see the paint defensively due to the collective length. Good point. I’d take that combined wingspan against that of the Raiders’ offensive line, plus a tight end and a blocking back. Bryant also praised Gasol’s all-around hoops skill (heard that before); talked about liking the small forward position as it allows him to attack defenses in different ways (more on that later); and explained how comfortable camp has been since the entire team knows Jackson’s system (very). As for the coach…

He of nine NBA (coaching) Championships spoke to media for only a few minutes, but of course provided some interesting sound bites. He contradicted Bryant’s statement that Gasol and Bynum looked “great” together with this comment:

“Right now (Bynum and Gasol) are very clumsy and aren’t working well together . We have a group that played together very well last year, and there are some things that we need to discuss to see how long we drag this out and how quickly we facilitate this.”

Jackson did qualify his comment by stating that once everyone figures out where they fit in, the team has the ability to play “exceptionally well.” Jackson also reported that both Bryant and Gasol will play against Utah in Anaheim on Tuesday at 7 p.m., contrary to some speculation wondering if the Olympic stars would be rested. Jackson expects Bryant to play for about half the game, while Gasol could see even less time as the head coach wants PT for Bynum, Chris Mihm and D.J. Mbenga.

In other news, Derek Fisher spoke at length about his health; with no medical degree on this end, perhaps it’s better if you hear it from Fisher.