O.C. Register: He stood there Monday, a prince who had become king, and decreed: “I am happy. There’s a lot to be happy about, a lot to be thankful about.”

Kobe Bryant rules like never before – with an improbably high approval rating and the outright confidence that his team shouldwin the NBA championship this season.

“We’ve got all the tools here,” Bryant said. “We’ve got all the pieces of the puzzle. Now it’s on us to do the work. If we do the work, we should win it.”

That work began officially Tuesday with the first Lakers practice of the season, but with Bryant planning to tap only selectively into the disappointment of falling short in the NBA Finals last season: “Use it whenever you need it,” he said.

There is otherwise no reason for Bryant to retrieve the scowl he so often wore one calendar year ago. He even tried Monday to douse his only existing brushfire by calling his interest in leaving the Lakers for a $50 million European payday “a joke.”

Bryant, who can opt out of his contract at season’s end, said he just blurted out the answer that he’d be interested because he had told USA Basketball teammate – and Nike sponsorship brother – LeBron James not to worry about fielding any dangerous questions during their joint news conference at the Olympics.

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