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Bryant returns to practice, expected to play vs. Seattle

10/18/2007 - NBA Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers + more

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant returned to practice after
sitting out the previous three days, and coach Phil Jackson said he
expects the disgruntled Los Angeles Lakers' star to play in an
exhibition game Thursday night.

"Yeah, we'll probably play him, get him out there," Jackson
said after practice Wednesday. "He seemed all right, sure did."

The Lakers face Seattle in Bakersfield on Thursday night in the
first of six exhibition games in nine days. They lost their first
two exhibition games to Golden State last week in Honolulu.

Bryant hadn't practiced since Saturday because of a sore knee.
He didn't speak with reporters Wednesday, but made his feelings
clear a day earlier in his only formal interview since Lakers owner
Jerry Buss stated he "would certainly listen" to trade offers for
the two-time defending NBA scoring champion.

"One thing I said at training camp was that I didn't want this
to be a distraction," Bryant said Tuesday. "It's our
understanding not to bring up the situation and not talk about it.
We just wanted to keep things quiet and go about our business. It
kind of caught me off guard a little bit."

Bryant asked to be traded 4½ months ago, then avoided speaking
about the Lakers until the beginning of training camp Oct. 1, when
he talked more positively, saying he was looking forward to the
season.

It seemed the parties had put negative feelings behind them
before Buss made his comments to three beat writers last week.

Jackson said it was essentially business as usual Wednesday,
although Bryant wasn't involved in scrimmaging at the end of
practice.

"He was extremely helpful with young players today, helping
them with the offense," the coach said.

"It was good -- he was out there smiling and looking good,
helping guys," teammate Kwame Brown said. "He was out there
working, hopefully that means he's going to play. We want him to
play, we need him to play."

Brown said the Lakers haven't been distracted by the fact that
Bryant missed practice the previous three days and his apparent
differences with management.

"We didn't know what was going on. We thought it was his
knees," Brown said. "Hopefully, they can handle that upstairs."

Derek Fisher, who returned to Los Angeles this season after two
years in Golden State and one in Utah, said he wasn't sure how
Bryant felt at this point and where the team stood. Fisher and
Bryant began their careers with the Lakers in 1996.

"I don't know if I'd call it a distraction," Fisher said.
"All we can really focus on is the guys we have right now,
including him. Everyone's aware of his presence, what he brings to
the team. He's such a presence."

Regarding Thursday night's game, Fisher said: "Physically if
he's capable of it, I expect him to play."

Fisher said he hasn't talked with Bryant about his situation
with the Lakers, saying he was reluctant to ask certain questions
because of the answers he might hear.

"I'm sure for him it's tough emotionally," Fisher said. "I'd
love to play with him for the rest of my career. Hopefully,
whatever happens, it's for the best for everyone involved."