Originally Published: March 10, 2004 7 a.m.
PHOENIX — In a season that has been tough on optimism, the most optimistic of Phoenix Suns fans can only hope that they caught a glimpse of their team's future Sunday night at America West Arena.
And he wasn't wearing a Suns uniform.
Laker superstar Kobe Bryant, an unrestricted free agent at season's end, put on a remarkable exhibition before as sellout crowd of 18,422, scoring 16 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter and lifting the Los Angeles Lakers to a 104-92 win over the depleted Suns.
"Does Phoenix seem intriguing to me … ?" Bryant asked rhetorically as the Suns lost for the eighth straight time and 11th in their last 12 outings.
"It's really hard to say. I've had a lot of good shooting games here, but I'm going to wait until the end of the season, weigh all of my options and go from there."
Barring a sign-and-trade, the Suns are one of the few NBA teams with enough cap space to land Bryant as a free agent once the season ends.
Of course, the Laker superstar has plenty of other things on his mind these days, including a fourth NBA title with the Lakers.
L.A. controlled this one most of the way.
The Suns did lead for the last two minutes of the first half when Leandro Barbosa nailed a long 3-pointer and scored off a steal to give Phoenix a 47-46 lead at the intermission.
But the Lakers regained control with a 6-0 run early in the third before closing the period strong with a Gary Payton 3-pointer and a Bryant drive.
The Suns pulled to within four in the final quarter, but Bryant took Shawn Marion apart in the fourth, scoring in every manner imaginable and capping it all with a 360-degree spin shot in the final seconds.
"Kobe's Kobe, what else can you say?" said Suns head coach Mike D'Antoni. "He and Shaq are all we talked about before the game, then he comes out here and still gets 40."
Suns forward Amare Stoudemire continued his inspired play as well, scoring 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. It was his sixth straight 20-plus outing.
"I don't know if we can play much better that we played in that second half," Laker coach Phil Jackson said. "Maybe defensively we could have, but Kobe is at the peak of his game, Shaq and Gary contributed and we had players filling roles."
The Suns had good luck with Shaquille O'Neal, holding him to 19 points and 5 rebounds, only two of the boards at the offensive end.
"He still had a big impact, but he realized that this was Kobe's night," Stoudemire said of O'Neal.
"He's still Shaq."
Notes: Among Sunday's sellout crowd was Prescott High School head football coach Lou Beneitone … The eight straight losses are the most Phoenix has suffered since it started the 1996-97 campaign 0-13 …