- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant isn't saying goodbye anytime soon.
Sure, he's thinking about his legacy and on what terms he wants his career to end. But retirement is still at least two or three years off and "there's a lot of basketball to be played" between now and then.
The subject of when the 34-year-old Bryant will retire came up again Tuesday because, well, he's been talking about it a lot lately, most recently in a CBSSports.com article in which he reiterated he'd likely only play two more seasons, or until his contract expires.
But as far as he's concerned, he's put an endpoint on his career almost from the beginning.
"I said when I was 17 that I'd be done when I was 35. It shouldn't be anything new," Bryant said, somewhat annoyed at all the fuss. "It's inevitable. It's gotta come. I'm not going to play 25 years."
While it's hard to imagine the NBA or the Los Angeles Lakers without Bryant, it's also hard to imagine anyone keeping up the mental and physical work it takes to play at a high level for as long as Bryant.
"It's always the mental part," Bryant said. "Physically, you know what you have to adjust to. Whether it's a knee injury or an ankle injury, whatever it is, you make those adjustments physically.
"But the mentality of preparing year in and year out, it's been 17 years and every offseason has been more work than the regular season. It's a lot of work."
When asked what he'd do after basketball, Bryant laughed.
"What the hell do I know?" Bryant said. "It's three years from now guys. I'm not like counting down the days. That time will come. It's inevitable."
When that time comes, Bryant said he'll use the way his former coach Phil Jackson handled similar situations as a model.
"I've played for Phil. He's gone through it twice now," Bryant said. "I saw how he managed it. He just stayed in the moment, appreciate each day as it comes. If anything, I think it will be more fun."
But again, that time is still at least two years away. And until then, Bryant's focused on the challenges in front of him, like winning his sixth NBA title, integrating Steve Nash and Dwight Howard into the Lakers' system and culture, and maintaining his own high level of play.
Bryant said he hasn't felt as good physically as he does right now since the 2006 season.
"With all the training I put in this summer," he said, "I feel healthy, I feel strong. I feel ready."
And his most important job, besides preparing himself, is trying to get the most out of Howard. While they've spoken a lot since the Lakers acquired the mercurial center from Orlando in the middle of August, Bryant said most of what he can teach Howard is learned through observing how he practices and plays.
"I make guys uncomfortable. When I practice, everybody is a little uncomfortable," Bryant said. "If you want to get to that next level, if a guy's guarding you in practice, you have to punish him and send him a message. Make the guy who is guarding you think about if he wants to play in the NBA anymore."
While Howard is known as more of a jokester, Bryant said he's been impressed by what he's seen so far. He just wants to see more of it, more often.
"Dwight, to be a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, you've got to have a little of that dog in you," Bryant said. "It's just a matter of him digging deep and just pulling it out. But it's already there. It's just a matter of him having it become habit."
During Tuesday's practice, Howard participated in full-court, full-contact, 5-on-5 drills. Before the media was let in to watch, he blocked two shots that had Bryant smiling.
"A goofball doesn't make plays like that," Bryant said. "He was all the way out of bounds, ran back in the play and made a big block on a dunk.
"Magic was like that. You saw Magic barking at guys. He was the point guard, the general, so you saw him yelling instructions a lot. And he's extremely competitive. But he still played the game with a smile on his face."
Just like Shaquille O'Neal, right?
"No. They're different," Bryant said. "Shaq was a goofball. But Shaq was a big a------. I was a little a------. It worked well.
"Dwight has a lot of that in him. He just needs to bring it out and make guys pay every single day."
O'Neal caused some controversy last week when he characterized Howard as a "pick-and-roll" player with a more limited offensive game than more traditional back-to-the-basket centers Andrew Bynum and Brook Lopez.
Howard responded to O'Neal, saying the former star should "just let it go" and that "it's time to move on."
Howard then pointed out what he perceived as O'Neal being a hypocrite.
"He hated the fact when he played that the older guys were talking about him and how he played and now he's doing the exact same thing," Howard said. "Just let it go. There's no sense for him to be talking trash to me. He did his thing in the league. He's one of the most dominant players to ever play the game. Just sit back and relax. You did your thing. Your time is up. So, I don't really care. I don't really care. He can say whatever he wants to say."
Bryant was going nowhere near any of that controversy on Tuesday. Well, sort of.
"That's Shaq's job to make a point," Bryant said of O'Neal, who works as an analyst for TNT now. "Dwight is going to be one of the greatest centers of all time. To not say anything but that is laughable.
"Shaq has three Finals MVPs and championships, but Dwight does have three Defensive Player of the Year awards. That's something Shaq was never able to accomplish.
"I think there's a lot to be said for Dwight and where he's at so early in his career. He's got a lot of room to go. His numbers are going to be way up there one day for sure."
As for how Howard defended himself in response to O'Neal's criticism, Bryant said: "He said what he had to. There's really nothing else to be said that he hasn't said."
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin was used in this report.
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