But Bryant said Thursday he wasn't prodding Howard to return.
"Not even a little bit," Bryant said in a quiet moment after the team's morning shoot-around, adding that he was surprised at the tone of the ESPN story. "In this case, it's not legitimate. I was shocked."
Bryant has a high threshold for pain, as evidenced plenty of times in the past. Howard has missed six games and left two others because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Bryant understood that his own pain tolerance was through the charts.
"I'm crazy, though, so I don't put that on other people," he said.
Howard took part in the morning shoot-around but was not sure whether he would play later in the day against the Boston Celtics.
He also didn't seem to want to hear what Bryant thought of him. Or didn't think of him.
"He's not a doctor. I'm not a doctor. So that's his opinion," Howard said. "I mean, I want to play. But at the same time, this is my career, this is my future, this is my life. I can't leave that up to anybody else because nobody else is going to take care of me.
"If people are [ticked] off that I don't play, that I do play, whatever it may be, so what? This is my career. If I go down, then what? Everybody's life is going to go on. I don't want to have to have another summer where I'm rehabbing and, you know, trying to get healthy again. I want to come back and have another great year."
According to ESPN.com, Bryant said, "We don't have time for [Howard's shoulder] to heal. We need some urgency."
Bryant also talked big picture about the free-agent-to-be.
"[Howard] has never been in a position where someone is driving him as hard as I am, as hard as this organization is," Bryant said. "It's win a championship or everything is a complete failure. That's just how [the Lakers] do it. And that's foreign to him."
If Howard doesn't play against the Celtics, the Lakers will go with Earl Clark at center, Coach Mike D'Antoni said.
"We'll play small," he added.
Metta World Peace will return against the Celtics after a one-game NBA-imposed suspension but continually declined to talk about it Thursday.
"I totally forgot about it. I don't even know what happened," said World Peace, who forfeited almost $81,000 in salary. "I don't even know what you're talking about."
-Mike Bresnahan and T.J. Simers