HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — While the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs occupy the minds of most NBA fans right now as the conference finals end and we get ready for The Finals, Kobe Bryant is quietly plotting his comeback in Los Angeles.
The Lakers’ superstar is deep into the rehabilitation process from season-ending Achilles surgery and has set his sights on an earlier than expected return to action, telling Dave McMenamin of the ESPNLosAngeles.com in an exclusive Monday interview that he’s hoping to return for the Lakers’ 2013-14 season opener:
“I hope so,” Bryant said . “That’s the challenge. With the tendon, there’s really only but so much you can do. There’s a certain amount of time that they deem necessary for the tendon to heal where you don’t overstretch it and now you never get that spring back.
“So, you just have to be patient, let the tendon heal and then when that moment comes when they say, ‘OK, we can take off the regulator so to speak and now it’s on you to train as hard as you can to get back to where you want to be,’ that’s going to be a good day.”
In addition to plotting his own return, Bryant plans on being an active recruiter for the Lakers’ biggest free-agent target, center Dwight Howard. Howard is sure to be entertaining suitors from coast to coast July 1 when free agency kicks off. Bryant and Howard got off to a rocky start as teammates this season but appear to have grown closer throughout the tumultuous ride.
Bryant said he’ll step in when needed and make sure to impress upon Howard the importance of the big man being a part of the master plan in Los Angeles:
“For me, you kind of let him do his due diligence and then move in and talk to him and figure out if this is a place he wants to be,” Bryant said. “We all want him here. But then that’s when the selling begins [after Howard is courted by other teams]. You don’t start the selling process right before he goes and does all this stuff. You want to get the last word. You want to have the final word and the closing argument.
“I’ll give him a little opening statement, but then I have to make sure I have the final word.”
That has to be music to the ears of Lakers fans. Having the man who has served as the face of the franchise for much of the past decade and a half work this hard to make sure Howard serves as his eventual franchise successor speaks volumes about where Bryant is in his career.
With the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are all reportedly preparing recruiting pitches for Howard (who, along with Chris Paul and Josh Smith, are the headliners in the free-agent class), the Lakers have to be prepared with a pitch of their own. The more input and influence from Bryant it seems, the better.
Only time will tell if it works out for Bryant on both fronts. We’d be foolish to doubt his resolve as he attempts to come back earlier than expected from his injury. In fact, convincing Howard to stick with the Lakers might be the more difficult of the two tasks.
Howard has managed to avoid doing any interviews since the Lakers were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Spurs, so anyone assuming what he might do is going off of sourced information and little else.