T.J. SIMERS

It has come to pass for Kobe Bryant

Bryant says he's at peace as he talks about his new role with the Lakers, Dwight Howard, Mike D'Antoni's offense and how he wants to be remembered when he retires.

MINNEAPOLIS — I'm liking the laugh-out-loud guy sitting across from me at Starbucks, maybe as big a shock as Kobe Bryant and I getting together to sip vanilla lattes.

You know who I'm talking about: the Kobester, the Big Baby, the Ball Hog, the Tanker.

And here I am, the Hater.

"We're human beings, so we're complicated," Kobe says.

We have already spent the last hour discussing his obsessive intensity, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Shaquille O'Neal, his stifling inner circle and his belief he can pass the Lakers into the playoffs.

"I just happened to grow in front of everybody and a lot happened," Kobe says. "Maybe one day in like 15 years or so some people will come to realize we didn't quite get him when he was playing."

There was a time when we would talk regularly and with great respect. And there was a time when we would not, replaced later by a lot of growling and confrontation.

The shift continues, the Lakers at their worst but Kobe at his best. And so what's wrong with him? I begin.

"I find myself talking sometimes and I can't believe what I just said," he says with a hearty laugh. "Realistically I have only one year left, so I'm trying to enjoy myself."

But what happened to the inner circle of trust, Kobe admitting, "You were off the reservation," if you didn't flatter him?

"I didn't have time to deal with nonsense," he says. "I had quite a bit of recovery going on, so I didn't have time to deal with negative stuff.

"I've taken the reins off now. I'm more open, hence Twitter. I'm at peace."

So ask him anything, and he obliges.

"Are you worried Howard might leave, jeopardizing a chance to win another ring, if he's not a fan of Mike D'Antoni's coaching?"

"Yeah, a little bit," Kobe says.

"Have you asked Dwight if he's going to stay?"

"I want him thinking about being our defensive stopper so we can ride him into the playoffs," Kobe says.

"Is D'Antoni the right coach?"

There's a long pause. "I don't think a coach becomes the right coach until he wins a championship. I don't think Erik Spoelstra was the right coach in Miami until he won. Phil Jackson was just some hippie coaching in Chicago with this weird offense."

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