Arash Markazi
Tuesday October 2nd, 2007

Kobe Bryant walked onto the Lakers' practice court in a purple-and-gold uniform for the first time since May and proclaimed himself a "soldier." Yet as he walked around and shook hands with many of his teammates for the first time in nearly five months, it was apparent this soldier had finally surrendered.

Surrendered to the reality that the same teammates he had thrown under the bus in the off-season would be the same group he'd have to ride or die with this season. Surrendered to a front office that refused to cave into his trade demands and did little to appease his need for a stronger supporting cast. In short, he had once again surrendered to being the leader of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The white flag was officially waved at 10:34 a.m., as Bryant joined the rest of his teammates more than a half-hour after they had already walked onto the Lakers' practice court. His fashionably late arrival added to what was an already intriguing day, as most in Bryant's camp had insisted during the summer the disgruntled superstar had played his last game with the Lakers.

"I haven't seen him," said Andrew Bynum as media opened up with Bryant. "We have no idea where he's at right now."

Not only had Bynum not seen Bryant on this day, he had neither seen nor heard from Bryant at all during the off-season. Even after an amateur video came out showing a visibly upset Bryant calling for Bynum to be traded for Jason Kidd, one of many proposed trades the Lakers nixed or saw fall through.

"Andrew Bynum? What the f---?" Bryant said in the video. "Are you kidding me? Andrew Bynum? F---ing ship his ass out. Are you kidding me? We're talking about Jason Kidd. But they didn't even want to do that. Now we're here in this f---ed up position."

The comments came as a surprise to Bynum, although Bryant's inability to reach out to him came as less of a surprise. Bryant hadn't kept in contact with any of his teammates in the off-season. Even when Derek Fisher returned to the Lakers, he only offered up a congratulatory text to his former teammate.

"I haven't spoken to him or seen him since," said Bynum. "I thought it was kind of messed up; but he's a frustrated veteran, and he wants to win and he had an opportunity to get a Hall of Fame point guard. So I guess I would be kind of upset, too."

When Bryant was asked about the situation, he said he actually got in touch with Bynum shortly after the video was leaked out while he was vacationing in Rome.

"Andrew and I texted each other," said Bryant. "He's [19] years old, I don't think he knows how to answer a phone, he texts. So, I was in Rome and I texted him and he hollered back, and I just let him know I was sorry about how that stuff came out. And he said that he understood where I was coming from and the frustration that I feel because I want to win right now."

Bynum simply smiled when told of Bryant's version of the reconciliation. "I never got it," he said of Bryant's text. "We never talked, but we're fine."

This wasn't the way Bryant saw things playing out. Playing he-said/he-said with reporters and reconciling with teammates he hadn't planned on talking to again. Truth be told, he probably had no idea what would happen. All he knew was that he couldn't return to the same team, the same teammates, the same front office that has left him without a playoff series win in three years. For a player with championship aspirations, simply vying for an 8-seed and another first-round exit is a depressing reality he'll have to get used to.

"I'm going to do what I need to do to help us win," he said. "When the season starts, it's not my place to say this is what we need to do -- that's something that they need to do. That's not my job. My job is to come out on the floor and help us win games."

Bryant admitted that he regretted his actions during the off-season, which included an almost surreal 24-hour stretch in which Bryant when on a mini talk-radio tour and demanded a trade, took it back and then demanded to be traded again.

"The way that it all came out, the way everything blew up, I think if there was a way to do things differently, I think we all would have done it," he said. "The way things have been handled in the last month and a half have been great for us; but they probably haven't been so great for you guys."

In terms of controversy, things may be great, but the same cannot be said of the Lakers' roster which hasn't changed much this off-season, with the only major addition to the team being Fisher, who replaces Smush Parker in the backcourt. While Bryant personally reached out to players on the trade block such as Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal and Shawn Marion, the Lakers haven't made a buzz-worthy roster move since 2004, when they traded Shaquille O'Neal for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant.

"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."

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