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

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.

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."

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."