Kobe says he's ready to put aside issues, get to work

Updated: October 1, 2007, 8:15 PM ET
Associated Press

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Where's Kobe?

There was some uncertainty regarding Kobe Bryant's presence at media day Monday, and it increased after the entire Los Angeles Lakers' roster except Bryant hit the floor for preseason promos and interviews shortly after the scheduled 10 a.m. start.

As it turned out, there was no mystery.

"He's running late. He had a doctor's appointment this morning," said Bryant's spokeswoman, Catherine Sebring, who lent a bit of intrigue last week by declining comment when asked about Bryant's plans.

Sure enough, with all eyes on the training room door, Bryant emerged at 10:34, and all was right in the Lakers' world -- at least for the time being.

Bryant hadn't said much about the Lakers since late May after calling the team's front office a mess and requesting a trade.

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The two-time defending NBA scoring champion said he decided to keep a low profile after that, and the team did the same.

"We purposely didn't say anything because we wanted to keep things to ourselves," he said. "There was just too much going on -- things get misconstrued. We don't need that. We don't need any distractions for the season. There was never a doubt I was coming to camp. They knew that, I knew that.

"I was frustrated, so I blew up. Now, it's about taking this team that we have and take it to new heights. I think the important thing for everybody to understand is I want to bring a title back to L.A.

"I'm ready to play. I'm in shape, guys look good. I'm ready to go. My job is to come out here on the floor, help us win ballgames."

I'm ready to play. I'm in shape, guys look good. I'm ready to go. My job is to come out here on the floor, help us win ballgames.

--Kobe Bryant

The Lakers left later Monday for Honolulu, where they'll begin training camp Tuesday and play their first two exhibition games before returning home Oct. 12.

Bryant pushed for an upgraded roster after the Lakers were eliminated by Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.

It hasn't happened, but four months after blowing up, Bryant said all the right things.

"I'm a soldier. It's not my decision to say whether or not we should fight the war," he said. "My focus and my mind has to be on this team. We have an uphill battle. I'm going to do all I can to help us win."

Unrestricted free agents Luke Walton and Chris Mihm were re-signed, and Derek Fisher, a former Laker, was added, which should improve the backcourt. But an attempt to land Kevin Garnett from Minnesota was unsuccessful, and nothing developed regarding Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal.

"I know they tried," Bryant said. "It wasn't a lack of effort. That means a lot to me."

The Lakers won three championships and reached the NBA Finals four times in five years before Shaquille O'Neal was traded to Miami in July 2004. They haven't won a playoff series since O'Neal left.

Bryant apologized to general manager Mitch Kupchak early in the summer for criticizing him and bemoaning the fact that Andrew Bynum wasn't traded in a video recorded by three fans last spring and sold on the Internet.

Bryant said he text-messaged an apology to Bynum, but the 19-year-old center said the two hadn't talked.

"I thought it was kind of messed up," Bynum said. "The only thing it really did was make me work harder. I really didn't think it was that big a deal.

"He's definitely a great teammate, a great player. I just hope that everything's cool, we go out and play basketball together. He wants to win more than anyone. I'm good with everything. I just know I want to come out and be a great player, be as good as I can be."

Several other Lakers said it would be easy to put the whole brouhaha behind them.

"He's a great guy -- he's the best in the business," Brian Cook said of Bryant. "There's a lot of love here. I'm going to try to be positive, pull all the guys together. I'm one of the older guys now."

Walton said he's heard 15 versions of what happened regarding Bryant.

"We'll let all this stuff be under the bridge and we'll move on," he said. "I'm 99 percent positive that by the end of camp, nobody on our team is going to be talking about it. I don't think it's as big a deal as people are making it out to be.

"He wants to win championships. This is the team we have. We had a very strong team last year before everyone got hurt."

The Lakers won 26 of their first 39 games before losing 27 of 43 to finish 42-40. Walton, Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown all missed extensive time with injuries, and Mihm sat out the entire season.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said the injuries were too much for the Lakers to overcome.

When asked if the current roster had what it takes to compete for a championship, Jackson replied: "I don't know. We'll have to be awfully good in the middle. We've got two guys [Brown and Mihm] who were injured and one guy [Bynum] who was a novice."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press