Bryant says it's a misunderstanding
Bryant also said Wednesday that he tried to call Malone "and square it all out."
Malone's agent, Dwight Manley, said Tuesday that his client had ruled out a return to the Lakers because of what Bryant said in the radio interview and what the agent called "recent personal attacks made in private."
Bryant said he was shocked by Malone's reaction.
"I meant nothing by it. It wasn't directed toward him," Bryant said after the Lakers' shootaround. "I'd love to have him back here, everybody would. If he wants to come back and play, the door's always open.
"This is the type of place he should enjoy playing. I'm happy to hear he's 100 percent. And in no way what I said was directed toward him or a personal attack. If he's felt some type of way about that, then I apologize."
But Bryant also said: "It is what it is, and I want to move on with the team we have here."
Manley said Malone was furious" and "felt very disrespected" after hearing of an account of what Bryant told XTRA radio in an interview Monday.
Bryant told the radio station he didn't think that Malone, who underwent surgery on his right knee last summer, would return to the Lakers, calling it "just intuition." Bryant also said the uncertainty wasn't fair to his teammates.
"I think he took what I said the wrong way," Bryant said Wednesday. "Maybe he didn't hear it, maybe he ran off with what somebody else was saying. If I felt like (Malone) was a distraction, I would have said it. I didn't say anything like that."
Malone told KCBS-TV late Tuesday that he didn't "want to be anyone's distraction."
Bryant said his relationship with Malone has "always been cool."
"If Karl comes back, it will be a tremendous addition," Bryant said. "But if he doesn't, I'm fine rolling with the guys we have here. It's his decision if he wants to come back."
Bryant didn't appear upset or agitated Wednesday.
"Everything I've been through, you just shrug it off," he said. "I don't hold grudges, I don't hold anger or resentment toward anybody. I've been through a lot. You forgive and move on. If Karl comes back, great. If he doesn't, that's fine, too."
Lakers coach Rudy Tomjanovich defended Bryant.
"I believe Kobe said it was a misunderstanding," Tomjanovich said. "And we've always felt the same way, that the red carpet is out for [Malone] if he wants to come back. He deserves to make a decision at the end of a great career.
"We have not talked at all. It's unfortunate negativity came out of it. But I don't think there's one ounce of negativity around here about Karl Malone."
The 41-year-old Malone told the Lakers on Oct. 1 he wasn't ready to play. But he didn't rule out returning at some point this season or later.
Manley said Tuesday that Malone had fully recovered from his surgery and would address his future in the next month or so.
Shaquille O'Neal, Malone's teammate last season in Los Angeles and a good friend of the power forward, would not speculate as to whether his current team -- the Miami Heat -- and general manager Pat Riley -- would pursue Malone.
"I'm sure he'll call if he's interested," O'Neal said before Miami's game at Milwaukee on Wednesday night. "And, maybe Mr. Riley will be interested. And, I can do my part with the general managerial skills that I possess. I can do my part to help, but it's totally up to Coach Riley."
O'Neal said he hasn't lobbied for Malone to join the Heat.
"Whenever guys like us talk, it's never about basketball," he said. "It's just about the families, the kids and about life. It's never about basketball. It's never about coming back. Karl's a great guy and I know he went through a tough injury last year, so basketball is probably the last thing on his mind."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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