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Thursday, May 31, 2007
Buss tells Bryant he is the Lakers' franchise 'cornerstone'

ESPN.com news services

Kobe Bryant -- who asked to be traded, backed off the request and then reiterated it on Wednesday -- talked with Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss on Thursday.

"I talked with Kobe this morning and assured him that I share his frustration and, more importantly, I assured him that we will continue to pursue every avenue possible to improve our team with him as the cornerstone," Buss said in a statement released by the team. "I told him that we will keep him apprised of our progress and we agreed that we will talk again in the very near future."

Wednesday saw Bryant's mood swing wildly as he talked to various radio and newspaper outlets.

Bryant first said to 1050 ESPN Radio in New York: "I would like to be traded, yeah. Tough as it is to come to that conclusion there's no other alternative, you know?"

Bryant, interviewed by Stephen A. Smith, was asked if there was anything the Lakers could do to change his mind.

"No," Bryant said. "I just want them to do the right thing."

Bryant later talked to Dan Patrick on ESPN Radio and seemed to reconsider -- slightly.

"I'm so tired of talking," Bryant said. "It's tough. I always dreamed about retiring as a Laker. I just hope and hope that something can be resolved. Something can be figured out. Just something so I can stay here and be in this city and be with the team I love."

Bryant told Patrick he talked to Lakers coach Phil Jackson after his first radio interview and felt resassured.

"When Phil and I spoke, he was optimistic and determined that we'll both be back," Bryant told Patrick. "Phil is somebody I listen to. I lean on him a lot. He assured me things are going to be OK. Things are going to be all right. Don't go full bore just yet. Take a deep breath and let us work these things out and everything will be all right. Which was very encouraging.

"I don't want to go anywhere else. I want to be here for the rest of my career. It was encouraging to hear that," he said.

Later Wednesday, he had two different messages for the Los Angeles-area media.

"I can only hope that they do something because I don't want to go no place else. I don't want to," he told radio station KLAC. "I want to stay here. I hope they can do something."

Still later, he told the Los Angeles Times in an interview that he wouldn't mind a trade. Speaking at 8:27 p.m. ET, according to the Times, he said: "Nothing's changed. It's just a matter of I don't want to go no place else. I don't have much of a choice. When things like this go down, you just sit back. What can I do? It's like a broken record."

The Times asked Bryant if he still wanted to be traded.

"Yes," he said.

Bryant, who turns 29 in August, is owed $88.6 million for the four years he has left on the seven-year, $136.4 million contract he signed July 15, 2004. That was a day after Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat.

Bryant said he felt Buss misled him right before he re-signed by telling him one thing and Jackson something else about the team's goals.

Bryant said he was told the Lakers would immediately try to rejoin the NBA's elite. But he said Jackson told him this week that Buss wasn't bringing him back as coach following the 2003-04 season because the Lakers were committed to reducing payroll and rebuilding long-term.

Jackson was out of coaching one season before being rehired by the Lakers, who haven't won a playoff series since Bryant re-signed.

Bryant earned $17.72 million last season and can terminate his contract following the 2008-09 season -- a move that would leave $47.8 million on the table.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.