Patient Bryant Sees Brighter Days Ahead


VIDEO: Thunder easily knock off Kobe, Lakers

OKLAHOMA CITY – For a brief moment in the closing seconds of Friday night’s first half, everything seemed right with the world.

There was Kevin Durant dribbling up top, protecting the ball as the clock ticked down to 16, 15, 14 … Kobe Bryant rushed up, crouched in a defensive stance, practically mugging the taller Durant. Bryant’s arms jabbed at Durant’s sides — left, right, then left again — attempting to stab the ball free.

In the next instant, the dreamy sequence was popped back to reality by the sudden squeal of a referee’s whistle. All is not right in Lakerland, and not with Kobe, at least not yet. The foul call ended the superstar joust before Durant could even make a move. Instead he walked to the stripe and made two less-than-pulsating free throws.

“It’s a shame they called the foul,” Bryant said. “We both kind of wanted that a little bit.”

“I knew he was going to do that. I knew he was going to challenge me,” said Durant, who had a marvelous night with 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals in 31 minutes. “A guy like Kobe, if I don’t accept the challenge I’m going to hear about it for a while. So I just wanted to accept it. I wish he didn’t foul. I was going to try to go at him there at the end of the quarter. But he’s just the ultimate competitor. I’m just so happy he’s back out on the court.”

He is back. But the new reality for this reluctant point guard and minutes-restricted Kobe is a tough one. A glance at the scoreboard after Durant’s two free throws told the truth of where the rolling Thunder rank in the Western Conference hierarchy compared to where Bryant, his surgically repaired Achilles and his band of mostly journeyman teammates stand: Thunder 66, Lakers 51.

Even that momentary sequence was born from that reality. Bryant’s lob pass into Pau Gasol was tipped away and stolen. His fifth turnover of the half set up Durant at midcourt for the showdown that wasn’t to be.

Bryant would play the first 8:55 of the third quarter of the 122-97 loss that was long gone in the second quarter with Bryant restricted to sitting on the bench. The Lakers’ second unit trimmed the Thunder’s double-digit lead to six three minutes into the second quarter. OKC’s starters returned and the route was on. Coach Mike D’Antoni said even the urge to get Bryant back in there didn’t phase him. He’s going to play up to 28 minutes max. By the time Bryant checked back in with 5:17 to go in the half, it was an 18-point spread.

“It’s tough,” Bryant said of watching when he’d typically be playing. “But physically it’s not ready for that yet. It’s tough, but I can feel it, it’s not ready. We just have to hold the fort down in that time and stay within striking distance and go from there.”

It won’t be easy. The Lakers, a scrappy 10-9 before Bryant’s return, are 0-3 since the Staples Center crowd greeted him with an emotional standing ovation last Sunday. The Lakers thought they should have taken Toronto at home before losing to Phoenix on Tuesday. This one was going to be tough no matter what. And when the bad injury news on Steve Blake‘s elbow came down Thursday, landing him with the Lakers’ already sidelined stable of point guards, Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar, just sticking close Friday night would have been considered a success.

Bryant started Friday’s impossible mission against the now 18-4 Thunder — 13-1 in their last 14 and 11-0 at home — at point guard because of the run of injuries. Running the offense is about the last thing Bryant needed now as he attempts to balance his comeback from a devastating injury that has broken players his age.

He opened the game trying to get his teammates involved, especially pal Gasol, who continues to be in something of a tit-for-tat verbal sparring match with D’Antoni revolving around the 7-footer’s usage in the offense. Bryant pushed the tempo, directed traffic and even once implored his younger teammates to hustle to the bench for a timeout.

He finished with a team-high 13 assists in 23 minutes. He also had seven turnovers, giving him 18 in the three games. Only Jordan Hill among the Lakers starters would finish with fewer shot attempts than Bryant’s six. Bryant’s four points were the fewest of any Lakers starter. He’s now wrapped two single-digit scoring games around Tuesday’s 20-point effort.

The last time Bryant scored single digits twice in a three-game span?: April, 1998. His second season. He was 20.

“Once I start playing a little bit more that number [shot attempts] is going to go up, points will go up,” Bryant said. “I’m not too concerned about that. The most important thing is our flow and how we play and how we manage the game. My points, I can always put the ball in the hole.”

The Lakers will need it soon. They continue on a four-game road trip at Charlotte Saturday night and then face a second back-to-back at Atlanta (Monday) and Memphis (Tuesday), all winnable-type games. Bryant said he’ll be ready be to go for his first test playing on consecutive nights.

“I’m moving a lot better, moving a lot better,”  Bryant said. “I’ll get to a point soon where I’ll be able to play a little bit more and be out on the court 30 to 35 minutes. Not ready to do that yet.”

When asked if he’s feeling a sense of urgency — yes, still a couple weeks even before Christmas — to stop the skid and get the record trending upward again in the stiff West, Bryant flashed a confident smile and had the wherewithal to take perhaps a final parting shot at that one-and-done Lakers center who chose to skip town over the summer.

“I’m not worried about it to be honest with you. We’ve seen worse,” Bryant said. “You forget kind of what we had to go through last year. I’m not really too concerned about it. Our heart is in the right place. I saw a lot of positive things tonight. We’ve just got to put it together for longer stretches. We’ll be fine.”

38 Comments

  1. SoftyPau says:

    Gasol was so soft cant even overpower his defender, so soft!

    I agree with tenby, they need young point guard and strong big man not SOFT

  2. FrankL2010 says:

    *** which is the best believed.

  3. FrankL2010 says:

    I am a Laker fan (forever, i guess) but I agree with most of you guys that Kobe should have a salary cut, or better yet, proposed to have a salary cut to acquire better players to back him up if he really in dire of the 6th ring. The present line up is just fast for kobe and his legs won’t allow him that. And honestly, when kobe in the line up, their play slows down a bit. Pau is not 100% and will never be unless they would meet halfway with the coach or have another coach, which is i believed. Landing 7-8 would still be uphill for this team, i’m crossing my fingers

  4. Kobe-Lebron@Manila says:

    Just wait and see and he’ll prove to you that he is KOBE.. They will make the playoffs and to the finals.. Even they don’t get there, next year, he will surely get his 6th and 7th ring.. GO LEBRON!!

  5. pej says:

    Kobe will recover to his finest, just wait and see. But Gasol must improve more his inside play and push his way harder closer to the basket for post up offense.

  6. tenby says:

    D’Antoni should go first and foremost. Trading starts next week, immediately swap Gasol for Z-Bo (or Ryan Anderson if the trade materializes with Pelicans) in order to stop these recent intrigues. Point guard issue is a huge problem, get the likes of Kyle Lowry, Isiaih Tomas or Goran Dragic and shift Nash to shooting guard in order to stretch his longevity till playoff time. Next, try to get another big man with the likes of Omer Asik, Thomas Robinson. Lakers bench of Young, Johnson and Henry are good but can also be used as trade baits for a single talented star like Loul Deng, Rudy Gay or Josh Smith. Finally, if the season is really over for the Lakers, they should try its best to get the best available player in next year’s draft. If they could not win the top lottery (wiggins), there are still the likes of Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Tyus Jones, Julis Randall/

  7. Kenneth Collins says:

    so no one watched the end of last season?
    The run of games to grab a spot in the playoffs?
    Are you people delusional? The man came back way too soon but in perfect timing to play the one!
    The mistake of last year was playing kobe to much. Mike refuses to let that happen again,
    He is the closest thing to MJ who will play through anything not sit out for a ankle sprain aka lebron,
    Wake up and realize one of the all time greats only has a few years left cherish it. The last of the greats from the 90’s on is going to retire and the league will never be the same again. Nba is soft now compared to the wonder years of only 2 decades back. Kobe came in a star and will leave a star have some respect.

  8. AJ says:

    Everyone who thinks Kobe is done based on his play recently… You must have never had a real injury before
    it takes time to get back into it, even if you were once a superstar
    and he’s only getting so much turnovers because he’s playing the point guard role…
    in do time, he’ll be back to normal… only thing that can stop him is another injury
    but regardless, lakers might make it to playoffs, but they’re not gonna win any rings, the west is too strong

  9. Unkle Daddy says:

    He should have waited till after the all-star break to come back. He needed more time to recover. They aren’t winning a championship, so none of this matters. They probably won’t even make the playoffs. Lakers should have let his contract expire this year and started rebuilding, it’s inevitable, now they can set doing nothing for two more years. And anybody who votes for him to be an all-star should be smacked, really has he played like an all-star, he hasn’t even been there to play.

  10. Name says:

    Just reading this comment makes you realize how most people here know nothing about basketball. Last year Kobe averaged 27-6-5 on 46% shooting and now that he is trying to come back from what could have very well been a career ending injury everyone is so quick to talk trash on the man. Give him a chance to get some games under his belt. If you’re talking bad about a player like Kobe you have no respect or knowledge of the game. You don’t have to like him, but you should definitely respect him. Very few people have/will accomplish what he has. Plus the Lakers biggest problem since he has come back is getting pounded inside every single night. I love Pau but he has been getting exposed defensively.

  11. waltwilliams55 says:

    What are the brighter days? I thought last season was a finals shoe-in.

  12. jg says:

    shucks man. can we just forget about the lakers for the next two years or so.
    tired of the lakers drama and recycled news reports about them.

  13. okc2014 says:

    In all fairness, the Lakers should not be criticized when they are playing a team like the OKC. No competition. Now if they lose and played the Jazz, Bucks, Sacramento or Philly…..Didn’t I say the Lakers would start losing again would Kobe came back?

  14. Lakers fans, Kobe fans and NBA fans in general should check out our weekly One on One Questions at The Lottery Mafia, an NBA site dedicated to the 14 Lottery teams. This week our first question is about the Lakers playoff chances. http://thelotterymafia.com/2013/12/14/one-on-one-december-week-2-questions/

  15. Cripple Rapist says:

    Until He (kobe) learns that he ain’t the player he used to be, swallow his ego then the lakers might reach playoffs, for those kobe fans saying it’s all coach fault, think again. the lakers played like a real team when kobe’s not around… Forget all about that now…. it’s kobe spotlight AGAIN….

  16. LBJKIN6JAMES says:

    HAHAHAHAHA Laker fans .. where did you go?

  17. darthvonpokemon says:

    I’d say the real problem is the coach. D’Antoni is making poor substitution choices. The other night when Kobe returned to the lineup, Xavier Henry suddenly had the hot hand and got the Lakers back into the game. D’Antoni pulls him during a stop in play to put in Kobe who clearly isn’t up to speed yet for longer minutes. Needless to say, the game slipped away again. I’m certain all the Kobe haters will jump on board to say he’s washed up, etc, but this was clearly on D’Antoni. He doesn’t have the firepower he did with the Suns where he can hope to just outrun and out-shoot opponents while playing limited defense. His quip yesterday that the team “has to figure it out in time” doesn’t cut it since HE’S the one who needs to figure it out. 4 HOF players on his roster last season and barely making the playoffs should be an indicator he does not know how to best utilize the roster he’s been given.

  18. Shawn Kemp No. 1 says:

    he came back WAY too early and there was no need because the team was playing well, but noo he can’t let anyone else get the spotlight but him. the other players were brimming with confidence, not anymore with him around.

    oh and to all of you who think they’re gonna make the playoffs, tell me what teams the Lakers are going to have a better record then?
    let’s see, they are definitely not going to finish in front of: Blazers, Thunder, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, so that’s 5.
    so they are going to battle for 6-8 with: Warriors, Mavericks, Nuggets, Wolves, Grizzlies (do you honestly think they are going to have a better record than these 5?)
    and i’m even favoring the Suns and the Pelicans to finish in front of the Lakers…
    so enjoy your 10-12 spot and i’m being optimistic. you delusional Kobe fans will soon get a dose of reality, but i guess you can always blame everything on the other players, the coach, the management. Kobe just cant do no wrong

  19. pem says:

    kobe will do anything to get that 6th ring
    he wants to be compared with MJ.
    he doesnt care about anyone else but himself to get that ring,

    • Kuro says:

      He will do anything… just won’t take a pay cut that would actually let the team bring in some good players… sure anything.

  20. lakers tank says:

    as a fan i want lakers to tank and get wiggins

  21. Destro says:

    The lakers will make playoffs and they just seems to be okey. No rush. Kobe just came back and he will be on his best.

  22. kobe become wade says:

    its time for kobe to follow wade’s role and become sidekick

  23. Kobe should have hung up the boots 2 years ago…..he just doesn’t have it anymore

  24. blackmamba24 says:

    Everyone here needs to be patient. I’ve watched every single Lakers playoff game for the last 18 years, and while I agree that these last few games have been painful to watch, people need to be patient with his return.

    Kobe Bryant has been the greatest thing to happen to the Lakers over the last two decades, their commitment to stick by him in his return is the least they can do. Claims like “he’s a bench player”, or “father time defeated Kobe” are either based on a very small sample set, or are written by young kids who haven’t seen Kobe’s greatness.

    No one has a better work ethic and thrives from people doubting him than Kobe, and in each game since his return I see him looking better and better. The Lakers may not win it all, but they aren’t done yet, and Kobe deserves more respect than this group is giving him.

  25. kobe24 says:

    its unfair to say that to kobe he still injured and it was in Achilles!

    its hard to see the lakers like this i hope all superstars were injured!! to be fair :(

  26. lol says:

    “brighter days”… hes turning into a turnover machine bench player… lets wait and see but hey get real, the bright days are gone, father time defeated Kobe Bryant.

  27. pacquiaoverated says:

    overpaid turnover king it only takes time… for him to put up 30-40 shots a game and making 30% every game, mark my words Lakers will be in the dump until the ballhog retires

  28. Manny says:

    With all of the injuries to our point guards, and what Kobes dealing with at his age, this is tough. Kobe WILL be better, but the man needs some help! Pau? Where the heck did u go??

  29. Kobe was a great player ( http://www.hostnumber.com/kobe-bryant-career-stats.html ), but his time with the Lakers should come to an end. They don’t have a chance to win another championship …

  30. psychologyofsports says:

    I totally agree patience is needed it is going to take time for Kobe to round out into shape–http://psychologyofsports.com/2013/12/14/kobe-bryant-a-superstar-return/

  31. psychologyofsports says:

    I totally agree it is going to take some time to round out into shape–http://psychologyofsports.com/2013/12/14/kobe-bryant-a-superstar-return/

  32. DigDug says:

    So basically…..no “brighter days” ahead, really. You just meant he will be playing more minutes soon. Thanks.

  33. dustydreamnz says:

    The Lakers are better than I thought they’d be this year. Kobe will continue to improve and trading Gasol who doesn’t look happy may help. They won’t be the last team thrashed by OKC this season.

  34. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    It’s not even ironic that they’re 0-3 since Bryant’s return. I expected that. He’s coming back way too soon. He’s nowhere near 100%; thus, he’s actually doing his team a disservice. Next thing you know that egomaniac is going to demand playing 30+ minutes-per-game. Next thing you know he’s going to get all sorts of injuries (minor or major).

    If you notice in Friday’s Thunder/Laker game, after 6 minutes, Bryant looked exhausted. If he tries to play too fast again against Charlotte tomorrow, he’s going to tire quickly again, and the Lakers will likely get blown out.

    But who cares? Thunder are playing as well as ever and should win it all. :-)

  35. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    Egomaniacs like Bryant are not cool. Bryant will never be a star again. He should’ve left L.A. for a contender, so he could come off the bench as a roleplayer that gets only 10 – 15 minutes-per-game. Now, he’s doomed.

    I love this game. :-)

  36. Prince says:

    Kobe is in lala land. The Lakers won’t make the playoffs and will struggle not to finish in the bottom 3 of the Western Conference.