- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- If choosing to unfollow Dwight Howard on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the center's decision to leave the Los Angeles Lakers wasn't sign enough of Kobe Bryant's indifference toward his former teammate, his first public comments on Howard's choice made it perfectly clear.
"I haven't followed enough to hear what he's kind of said about going to Houston and some of the reasons why he went to Houston," Bryant said Wednesday at his annual youth basketball academy on the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara. "I don't know. I don't. You look at me, you really think once a guy decides to go someplace else, I'm going to waste my time trying to figure out why that happened?"
It was more of a shrug than a silver-tongued reaction from Bryant. If Howard wanted to be a Rocket, so be it.
"I'm happy for him," Bryant said, without a hint of his usual sarcasm. "I've said that before. I'm happy for him. It's important for free agents to make decisions that they feel is best for them. That's really what it's about, being a free agent. You have to make decisions that you feel is best for you, best for your family and best for your brand, whatever it may be. So, it is what it is."
What has become abundantly clear is Howard is not, and never was, fit to be the next face of the Lakers' franchise once Bryant, who turns 35 next month, chooses to retire.
"I think everybody is cut differently," Bryant said. "[Howard] has his way of leading that he feels like would be most effective and would work for him, and obviously the way we've gone about it with this organization and the leaders that we've had -- myself, Magic [Johnson] and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] -- we've done it a different way."
Bryant said he had no problem with the "Stay." billboard campaign the team launched to try to keep Howard -- "You want a player back, you got to do what you can to try to bring him back," he said -- but the final sit-down meeting with Howard was too somber for Bryant's taste.
"I was just kind of going in there and I really didn't know what to expect, to be honest with you," Bryant said of the Lakers' pitch to Howard last Tuesday. "I walk in there and everybody is sitting down and everybody is quiet. I didn't know what the hell was going on. Everybody was just really dead-ass serious. It was pretty funny to me."
Unlike teammate Steve Nash, the only other Lakers player to be a part of the pitch, Bryant said he never had a sense with which team Howard would agree to a deal. Nash told ESPN LA 710 radio's "Mason & Ireland Show" on Tuesday that Howard expressed that he never felt fully embraced in his lone season in Los Angeles.
Howard's stance barely registered with Bryant.
"Steve is the quintessential teammate," Bryant said. "Steve takes that stuff to heart, man, but I really don't care. As a teammate, you have to be there to support but you also have to drive a hard bargain at times. So, Steve, that really hit home for him."
With Howard out of the picture, Bryant is working his way back to the place that's felt like home for the past 17 seasons -- on the court, playing in a Lakers uniform.
"It's progressing faster than everybody expected," Bryant said of his recovery from the Achilles tendon surgery he underwent in April. "I should be able to be more active with conditioning in the middle of August, which is like four months after the surgery.
"It's crazy, but I've been very, very fortunate to be able to have [Lakers head physical therapist] Judy [Seto] travel with me absolutely everywhere, be with me all the time, and I was fortunate to be able to go in and have the procedure done the next day [after rupturing the tendon]. I think all that's helped."
While Bryant is normally a very active participant in his basketball academy, his Achilles rehab is forcing him to slow down this summer.
"I'm limited," Bryant said. "I'm not going to be able to get out there and do too much without the Lakers having a heart attack. So, I'll just be around, walking through, showing various things."
One of Bryant's former teammates, Shaquille O'Neal, doesn't think the injury or the loss of Howard will slow down the Lakers' star.
"Kobe's a tough competitor," O'Neal said during a conference call Wednesday to promote his new movie, "Grown Ups 2." "He loves when everyone doubts him. Of course at [almost] 35, they're saying he's done, but Kobe will show the world that he can play at a high level until he's 40."
Bryant, who has one year remaining on his contract, told the Lakers Nation fan blog at his camp not to assume he will take a pay cut to remain in Los Angeles.
"I'm not taking any at all -- that's the negotiation that you have to have," Bryant told the website. "For me to sit here and say, 'Oh yeah, I'm just going to take a huge pay cut.' Nah, I'm going to try to get as much as I possibly can."
In the meantime, Bryant will be tuned in with the Lakers' front office 100 miles south in El Segundo, Calif., as it continues to try various things, such as bringing back former Laker Jordan Farmar, to field a competitive team for next season.
"It's an open conversation, via text and also meeting in person and just picking up the phone and calling," Bryant said of his involvement. "They've kept me in the loop pretty well."
And Bryant hasn't had any problem with cutting Howard out of his social media loop.
"Listen, man, it's just me," Bryant said. "That's just how I am. I have a hard time following people that want to beat us and stuff. I have a hard time doing that. Not to say that we're not friends or I don't respect him or anything like that. It's just hard for me to do that."
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com