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Lakers hope to send Kobe Bryant ‘out strong’

The 2014-15 NBA season did not exactly go as planned for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Championships are expected from a franchise that has won 16 NBA titles and reached the NBA Finals another 15 times.

Without future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant – who has won five NBA championships and been the Finals MVP twice – for much of the season, the Lakers stumbled to a 21-61 record – fourth-worst in the league. Bryant played in just 35 games before a shoulder injury shelved him for the remainder of the season. It was the second straight year – and the third time in four seasons – Bryant missed significant time with an injury.

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Kobe Bryant gives Jordan Clarkson some pointers on the bench during a game in March.

“He’s an intense guy and he wants to win,” Lakers point guard Jordan Clarkson said of Bryant. “Having that kind of guy around, you can’t help but respond and he builds up that mentality. You just hope to learn as much as you can from him.”

Clarkson was a first-team selection to the NBA all-rookie team after the 6-5 point guard from Missouri averaged 12 points and 3.5 assists per game in 38 starts. Clarkson, who trains with Drew Hanlen’s Pure Sweat Basketball, knows he can still learn plenty from a player like Bryant.

“I need to work on everything,” Clarkson said. “My hand drills and ball skills, continue to knock down the 3-point shot. I still have a lot of room to work and we can prove people wrong next year by coming back strong.”

The Lakers own the second pick in this month’s NBA Draft, and could add another talented youngster like Duke center Jahlil Okafor to help Los Angeles return to the postseason.

Bryant will be entering his 20th, and likely final NBA season, with many believing the 36-year-old will hang it up in 2016. Clarkson would like to send Bryant, who will be 37 in August, “out strong.”

“We just need to put some games together,” Clarkson said, “and hopefully make the playoffs and do some good things.”