EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- It's time to do away with the image of Kobe Bryant playing under protest. After completing a Lakers practice Wednesday afternoon, Bryant said he's glad he hasn't been traded.
"I'm happy to be here," Bryant said. "My guys and I -- we have such a tight bond. Business and basketball sometimes can cloud things, but when you get here in your element and you're around your teammates and just having a good time with them and thinking about them and not about the business of the game, that's when it becomes fun."
Bryant wouldn't go as far as to rescind the well-publicized trade demand he made in May. When asked if he no longer wanted the Lakers to trade him, he essentially gave a no comment, saying, "I don't get into that stuff."
Nonetheless, the admission that he is happy to still be a member of the Los Angeles Lakers signifies a massive change in Bryant's thinking and may indeed be analogous to a repeal.
The Lakers' success certainly has something to do with Bryant's change of heart. Despite the absence of several key players due to injury, the club takes a 12-8 record and three-game win streak into tonight's game against San Antonio.
Their list of victims is as impressive as any in the league, as they've beaten Phoenix, Utah, Detroit, Golden State, Houston, Chicago and Denver twice.
"I don't think the wins we've had are a fluke whatsoever," Bryant said. "In our locker room, we don't feel like the wins we've had are flukes. We've had to grind some out and go into tough places and deal with injuries and illnesses. We feel pretty good about where we're at."
Asked if he believes the Lakers are legitimate contenders in the Western Conference, he said:
"We're very young and we have a lot of growth to do and a lot of maturing to do," he said. "But we're okay."
There is a sense of relief around the Lakers organization right now, if not because the storm surrounding Kobe is over then at least because it's subsided substantially. In hindsight, Bryant believes all the drama that engulfed himself and the club throughout the off-season and training camp has actually become a positive. It was a harsh reminder that just making the playoffs is not enough.
"Sometimes you have to kind of put a fire to them a little bit so that they understand that we're playing for higher stakes," Bryant said of his teammates. "Once they understood that and saw me come into training camp saying 'Look, I'm tired of playing for the playoffs. I'm not playing for that. I don't know what you guys are playing for, but I'm not playing for that.' Once they understood that 'Hey, this guy's head is on a championship level, this is where we need to get,' then it kind of ignited another side of them and they started looking at this thing a little differently.
"I think it changed their perspective a little bit and kind of shifted their focus to 'Okay, he's playing for a championship so this is what we need to do."
But Bryant's teammates aren't the only ones who've undergone an attitude adjustment. The other Lakers say Bryant's been more sociable than ever off the court, joining teammates for lunch before road games and things like that.
"When a team goes through stuff -- whatever it is -- it either grows further apart or closer together," Luke Walton said. "Our team's been through a lot, and I think it's definitely brought us all closer together. Kobe is a huge part of the team so the only way we can get closer is if he gets closer and he's definitely gotten closer to a bunch of the guys."
Harmony in Laker-land?
Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine