Certain he could win without Shaquille O'Neal and resolute even as the losses collected at his feet, Kobe Bryant often rejected vulnerability last season.
But with less than two weeks until a new season begins, Bryant is showing a different demeanor, referring to himself as an "old dog" and trying to avoid the constant carping and over-cajoling that irritated teammates.
The triangle offense, never an easy subject to digest, is being reinstalled, and plans call for an un-Laker-like pressure defense, but Bryant seems resolute in an entirely new way.
"I'm not teaching at all," he said late Thursday night. "I try to nudge them along. Sometimes guys come to me throughout the course of practice and they ask me certain situations where to go, and I'll help them along the process, but I really don't want to interfere with their growth. It's important for them to kind of figure out the system and how it works best for them.
"Lamar [Odom] is a prime example of that. What he's being asked to do is exactly what my role was a few years ago. It's something I know inside and out. But I came to that revelation through my own growth and I didn't have anybody on top of me all the time telling me how to do it. I had Tex [Winter] teaching me and I had a couple of old dogs, which I guess now, I'm the old dog. Ron Harper was kind of nudging me along, providing me guidance. That's what I try to do for them."
Backing off is not easy for Bryant, but he says it's necessary if the Lakers are to play beyond April.
"Sometimes it's frustrating because throughout the course of a game, especially in the preseason, sometimes my competitiveness wants to take over and I want to just go outside of me and just go nuts," Bryant said. "But it's not going to help us. It's not going to help us at all. And it's important for me to realize that.
"Sometimes when our offense is breaking down or something like that, it's important just to stay in the system and let the system work itself out because that's how we're going to learn. We're not playing for right now, we're playing for the long haul. It's important to stay inside of that and be patient.
"It's nonnegotiable. It really is. I've made up in my mind it's just nonnegotiable. That doesn't mean I won't be trying to build a rhythm throughout the course of the game to be able to take a game over, especially when we need to do it. But it's important for it to come within the flow of the game. Because that's what is really going to help us grow and evolve."
Laker officials have noted privately a new maturity about Bryant on and off the court, which is not to say things always go smoothly.
There has already been a chat about shot selection, after the Lakers' exhibition victory Tuesday over the Washington Wizards, when Coach Phil Jackson told Bryant he "pushed the envelope real far" late in the game.
Bryant appeared to comply.
"He was pretty tired," Jackson said. "There was no feedback from him. He understands."
Bryant, 27, has logged 21,962 minutes in regular-season games and another 4,556 in the playoffs, a lot of mileage on the NBA track.
He has six more years on his contract and might not see another championship for a while. He can preach tolerance, but he must also practice it if the Lakers are to rediscover paradise, however far off it may seem.
"How long-term is long-term?" Bryant said. "I really don't know. But it's important just to stay patient and do the daily things. If we skip steps, then that long-term could take forever.
"I'm young enough and healthy enough to be able to go through the process and be patient. Hopefully, years from now, we can sit back and talk about the times we were struggling with the offense, but we'll be in paradise [by then].
"Hopefully next year in training camp, we won't be going over triangle 101. Maybe it'll be 102 or 103. Maybe we can advance to triangle physics."
Bryant had 27 points on eight-of-13 shooting and the Lakers beat the Charlotte Bobcats, 109-93, in an exhibition Friday at Staples Center. Chris Mihm had 14 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes, his best in exhibition play so far.... Andrew Bynum was cleared to resume practice Monday, almost two weeks after straining an abdominal muscle.