Bryant mum on future with Lakers during first U.S. team practice
Does he still want to be traded? Or does he still want to be a Laker for life?
Whichever is true, Kobe wouldn't say.
"I understand the interest in the situation, and when the time is right, I'll be more than happy to answer those questions," Bryant said after practicing with Team USA on day one of the national team's three-day minicamp. "Right now we have a lot to accomplish, and I don't want to detract from that or be a distraction from that."
Asked when exactly the time will be right, Bryant said he did not know.
"It's about going forward and handling the situation the right way, and handling it behind closed doors within the walls of the organization, and doing it that way," said Bryant, who has failed to clarify his position for seven weeks now since going on 1050 ESPN Radio in New York saying he wanted to be traded, then altering his position in subsequent interviews later that same day.
Bryant's agent has put in a formal trade request to Lakers management, and Bryant has discussed his wishes with team owner Jerry Buss. The Lakers are known to have called some teams to gauge what they could get back in a Bryant trade, but the organization has publicly insisted it has no plans to trade its franchise player.
If Bryant's trade demand stands, he could force the Lakers' hand by holding out of training camp. But when asked specifically whether he'd be at camp, Bryant politely declined to answer.
"I understand the questions, I understand the interest, but I don't want to be a distraction," Bryant said, allowing that he would have handled his trade request differently if he had a chance to do it over again.
So for now, the mixed message that Bryant sent out on May 30 will continue to stand, and the damage this episode has done to Bryant's image is something he will have to live with. He said he had received several baby pacifiers in the mail from upset fans, including a pink one sent by L.A. Times columnist T.J. Simers, who was Bryant's most persistent questioner Friday, imploring him to undue the confusion he had created.
"Yeah, I understand how it was received that way. And like I said, I think if I had to go back and do things differently, I would have. Like I said, the right thing to do now is handle the situation the right way going forward. And that's what we're trying to do."
Simers asked Bryant if he had apologized to Buss for calling him an idiot.
"Dr. Buss and I have had several conversations. We spoke a couple times, and I don't want to get into the conversations we had personally. I think our relationship, we want to keep things private and keep things between ourselves. Going forward, all I can do and all we can do is handle the situation the best way we can, and try to handle it the right way going forward, and that's not going to be a distraction."
When asked if the signing of Derek Fisher, the drafting of Javaris Crittenton and the re-signings of Chris Mihm and Luke Walton were enough to placate his desire for an upgrade to the Lakers' roster, Bryant's initial answer did not make a lot of sense.
"I think they're a helluva basketball, um, a great addition, I have to say, to the team. I think it was important to keep Luke, and Fisher I talk to all the time, and I'm extremely happy for his family, and I'm happy for Chris as well. I reached out to him."
But, he was asked, did those moves satisfy his misgivings?
"It's not the time to address that," Bryant said.
Asked if he thought the Lakers might pull off a blockbuster trade, he said: "It's not really about me. It's just about what Mitch [Kupchak, the Lakers' GM] and them feel like they need to do to improve the ballclub."
Bryant was more forthcoming when it came to other topics.
• On his weight loss of 19 pounds, he said it was the first time in nine years he had weighed in at 200 pounds. "I started watching what I eat. I had something to eat, I think it was pepperoni pizza and grape soda, and I started feeling a little bloated. And I didn't know what that sensation was, and I tried getting out on the track and running and felt a little heavy, so I had to cut back a little bit."
• On the scandal involving referee Tim Donaghy, who allegedly gambled on games he officiated: "It's a shame, it's unfortunate, and I'm sure the league is on top of it and I'm sure they'll handle the situation accordingly. It's very surprising. The NBA really hasn't had any scandals on gambling that I can remember. As players, all we can do is go out and play the game. David Stern is a great commissioner, and he'll handle it."
• On finally playing for Team USA after circumstances forced him off the team in 2003, 2004 and 2006: "It means everything. I've looked forward to this for a while, to be in this position to represent our country."
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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