EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Asked around 11 a.m. Saturday about his some-day return to the court, Kobe Bryant said “My goal is to play tonight.” So there was not going to be a lot of clarity.
Saturday night would have been out of the question if there had been a game, but little on the calendar after that seemed much of a certainty as the Lakers reconvened in preparation for the new season that will include Bryant. At some point.
The coach is not ruling Bryant out of at least the last of the exhibition games, Mike D’Antoni said. But D’Antoni balanced that by noting he is not counting on Bryant for any of the eight preseason contests in Southern California, Las Vegas or two in China against the Warriors.
The player is not ruling out opening night of the regular season, Bryant said. But the usual supreme confidence was tempered by the assessment that there is no way to know at this stage if Oct. 29 against the Clippers will happen. Pressed whether beginning 2013-13 on the court is realistic or overly optimistic, after it was originally feared that the torn Achilles’ ligament in the left leg suffered April 12, 2012 would keep him out closer to a year, the All-Star shooting guard said: “I don’t know. Probably a combination of both.”
There is no clear answer, in other words.
“It’s about being smart about it and pacing it the right way and just seeing how it does,” Bryant said. “It’s really just a strength thing now, just seeing how the explosiveness holds up and then how the recovery holds up after that.
“The mental aspect of it, I really don’t concern myself too much with that. I can’t do anything about it if I’m going to hurt something, so I won’t waste my time really thinking about that. But I do need to get in shape. And I will get in shape. It doesn’t take me long to do that. I really work hard at it, and when I get back out there on the court, I’ll be good to go. I don’t think I’ve ever played a season where I was 100 percent. Seventy-eight is fine.”
The uncertainty is complicated by plans to lessen the workload for Steve Nash after he averaged 30.4 minutes per game in 2012-13 while turning 39 at midseason, putting the Lakers in the difficult position of having to rely on a bench that has offered few reasons to inspire confidence. If Bryant is not back by the end of October, D’Antoni is looking at stretches with both starters off the court. And even if Bryant and Nash are both able to play, there could be limits on minutes and back-to-backs.
A Steve Blake-Nash opening lineup is a possibility, though an invitation for trouble on defense with Nash at shooting guard. The Lakers added Jordan Farmar, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson in the offseason and all will play in the backcourt, along with small forward for Young and Johnson. Jodie Meeks returns at shooting guard as well.
“I don’t think anybody knows,” D’Antoni said of what Bryant will be able to deliver. “He doesn’t know. He won’t know until he gets back on the court and we see it. It’ll be something we watch day to day. Hopefully there is no adjustment. Hopefully he’s exactly the way as when it happened. You don’t know that. But I can guarantee you he will find a way to be effective. What this is, we’ll all see.”