NEW ORLEANS — Kobe Bryant evidently would prefer not to take the floor for Sunday's NBA All-Star Game here. The league very much wants to him to play.

Should Bryant win, Jazz point guard Deron Williams may, too.

If needed, Williams is a leading candidate to replace Bryant, who is citing a finger injury as the reason he won't take part in one other NBA All-Star Weekend event.

The star Los Angeles Lakers guard dislocated his right pinkie in a Feb. 5 game at New Jersey and, according to the Lakers, aggravated it Wednesday.

The NBA on Friday replaced him with reigning NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks for the league's annual 3-point shooting contest, part of NBA Saturday Night festivities.

But Bryant may be seeking to be replaced in Sunday's showcase as well.

The Orange County (Calif.) Register did report late Thursday that Bryant "plans to start" Sunday, extending his streak of consecutive starts to 10, but likely will not play much."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, however, said after the Lakers' win at Minnesota on Wednesday — a game in which Bryant scored 29 points and played 35 minutes — that "he'd prefer Bryant not play in the All-Star Game," the Associated Press reported.

The wire service also reported that Bryant "said he'll travel to New Orleans for the festivities, but he ... isn't sure about suiting up for Sunday's exhibition."

Bryant was "noncommittal" when asked if he would play Sunday, "but he told some teammates he would not play," the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

"We'll see what the doc has to say," Bryant, the MVP of last year's All-Star Game in Las Vegas, told the Times.

Also Thursday, the Lakers released a detailed statement saying that Bryant, after an examination in Los Angeles by hand specialist Dr. Steve Shin, "has been diagnosed with a complete tear of the radial collateral ligament, an avulsion fracture, and a volar plate injury at the MCP joint of the small finger of his right hand."

The statement — perhaps designed to help grease the path for Bryant's potential exit from Sunday's game — also said Shin "has recommended surgery to repair the ligament, which would cause Bryant to miss approximately six weeks."

Bryant, though, has decided against any immediate surgery.

"My current thinking is to give my finger some treatment and rest for a few days, and hope I can still continue to compete at a high level after that rest," he said. "I would prefer to delay any surgical procedure until after our Lakers season, and this summer's Olympic Games."

It's believed the NBA, meanwhile, is decidedly opposed to Bryant's withdrawal.

Should things change today, third-season Jazz point Williams could replace him on the Western Conference team — with veteran Golden State guard Baron Davis another possibility.

NBA commissioner David Stern would make the replacement selection, if needed.

Stern already has tapped two Eastern Conference replacements, picking Boston guard Ray Allen on Thursday to fill in for Washington's injured Caron Butler and earlier choosing Detroit's Rasheed Wallace to take the place of injured Boston big man Kevin Garnett.

Williams, seeking to make his first All-Star Game appearance, ranks fourth among current NBA leaders in assists per game with 9.4.

All three players ahead of him — Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Jason Kidd — are All-Stars this season.

The Jazz had not received any word as of late Thursday that Williams would replace Bryant if needed, team spokesman Jonathan Rinehart said.

But Williams, thought to be in the NBA's good graces for his cooperation with various league activities, already is in New Orleans to take part in Saturday night's skills contest.

The Jazz already have one All-Star, forward Carlos Boozer.


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