Rival coaches welcome, dread healthy return of Lakers’ Bryant


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant’s career milestones

CHICAGO – As one of the NBA head coaches said Thursday, the word out of Los Angeles that Kobe Bryant is fully healthy for the start of the Lakers’ training camp is a classic case of good news-bad news.

Good news for Bryant, the Lakers and NBA fans, obviously, after enduring Bryant’s two injury-marred partial seasons. Bad news, presumably, for rivals if Bryant is able to get back to something approximating his Hall of Fame-bound younger self.

But Bryant, at age 37, after a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2013 and a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder last season, never has been so mortal or so old. He’s returning to a Lakers team that has gone 48-116 the past two seasons, the worst of the franchise’s L.A. era. And the harsh reality is that the Lakers were no better with Bryant in the 41 games he played than they were without him in the other 123 – their winning percentages with (12-29) and without (36-87) were precisely the same: .293.

So it’s one of the larger questions looming over the 2015-16 NBA season: How far back will Bryant get? Several of the league’s head coaches tackled it – and shared their thoughts on Bryant’s particular brand of greatness and intensity – Thursday prior to the start of their annual fall meeting in downtown Chicago.

“I think he’s still probably capable of being an All-Star,” said George Karl of the Sacramento Kings. “A lot of Kobe Bryant now is his brain as much as it’s his skills and athleticism. For years he was skilled and athletically bigger, stronger than the players he played against. Now he’s learned the angles. He’s still going to be extremely difficult to defend – you’re going to need to defend him with one of your better players. He might not be as great defensively but he’s still going to make defensive plays.”

As for Bryant’s ability to make peace with any decline in his game, Karl said: “It’s probably a little more difficult than you think it is. I was a very ordinary player, and I didn’t want to give up on who I was. I didn’t want to think I wasn’t an NBA player and I wasn’t good enough to play in that game. Now Kobe’s going from the top of the mountain, from a Mt. Rushmore-type, to maybe just being a really good All-Star. I don’t know how long Kobe will take to make that decision. Will he like who he is and continue to play at that level, or does he just want to remember himself as being one of the best?”

Washington’s Randy Wittman talked of the tough intersection Bryant’s at, with injuries, age and a struggling Lakers team converging. “Some handle it better than others,” the Wizards coach said. “But look, I don’t anticipate anything different from what Kobe’s been. I think he’s going to come out and try to show that he’s still got it.”

Coping with the Lakers’ losing ways? “I don’t think he thinks they’re going to lose,” Wittman said.

Sam Mitchell, interim Timberwolves coach during Flip Saunders‘ medical leave to battle cancer, said he thought of Bryant while packing for his flight Thursday morning from Minneapolis. ‘They were talking on ESPN about Peyton Manning, and they were saying he didn’t have the zip he had and using all these clichés,” Mitchell said. “But remember something about those veteran players, they’ve got heart, man. They’re gonna go down swinging. Eventually Father Time’s gonna win. But Kobe Bryant’s got five championship rings and he’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever been around in my life. And you know what? In his mind, he’s still Kobe Bryant. Until someone proves him wrong and knocks him off.”

The Timberwolves open their season against the Lakers at Staples Center on Oct. 28. “We’re going to prepare for Kobe Bryant on opening night as if he’s the Kobe of old,’ Mitchell said, “because he’s going to come out and play.”

Denver’s Mike Malone echoed that. “You can’t talk about Kobe like an ordinary player,” Malone said. “His will to win, his tenacious personality … everybody says ‘Well, he’s not going to be the same.’ But I’m never going to short-change Kobe Bryant.”

Malone was on Golden State’s staff when Bryant suffered his Achilles injury, a point at which some thought Bryant’s playing career was done or jeopardized. And now? “I’m curious to see how he is and, really for our league, I hope he comes back and plays great,” the Nuggets’ new coach said. “I expect to see a very determined, passionate and hungry Kobe Bryant, because he’s been away from the game for a while. I know when Denver plays the Lakers, we’re not going to go in expecting to see ‘poor old Kobe.’ We’re going to expect to see the Kobe of old.”

That word comes up a lot now: old. Father Time has a consecutive victories streak and doesn’t play favorites.

“He’s gonna still be ‘Kobe Bryant,’ ” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, “but when you’ve missed two years basically and you’re older, it’s not easy. Just the rhythm and timing alone, on top of the injuries and fighting the age as well. Kobe is probably as mentally as tough as any player we’ve seen since Michael [Jordan]. So he’s gonna be ready. He’ll be good.”

Rivers thinks the Lakers bottomed out last season and will be up to the challenge Bryant throws at them, within reason. “When he left, when he was healthy, they were really good,” the Clippers coach said. “He has a lot of young guys he can be a mentor to. And they’ve added – they had a better summer, so there will be some veterans he can play with as well.”

And poke and prod and ride as mercilessly as he does himself.

33 Comments

  1. chiefgeneralbryant says:

    Shut up bulls fan. Did you see him play last season he was good he has an long career 20 years and still going. Lakers got a better squad then the Bulls. Kobe is better than Jordan.

  2. bullsfandan says:

    These coaches are too kind. Are 37 their is not much he can do anymore. Not that it matters because he will probably get hurt again. He never could stay healthy. His team will never win again.

    • AJ Walkin is my hearo says:

      Just an info. Kobe’s pal, Pau was bashed for having injury-plagued seasons in Lakerland and was always in trade rumors each year considered too old to be like his own self. Now, at 39 years old. Look at him now. Then, look at Kobe.

  3. J.R. says:

    There’s one thing none of you mention…Kobe loves basketball and if he can still play at a high level then he should continue what he loves to do. I still have him as a top 3 guard and since he’s healthy he can contribute in big way. Kobe loves the game… he won’t retire for a while.

  4. Mark from Bayarea says:

    Can Kobe guard Stephen Curry????
    Last time I checked, Kobe hobbled off the court becuase he got his ankle broken.

  5. Byron Scott says:

    Alot depends on the minutes he plays and how he scores. Byron has said there will be a hard cap minutes limit and the lakers are very skilled in the perimeter. I believe Kobe will be very efficient in the post, especially since there is a lack of 3’s on the roster. Playoff team? Not likely, but this will be a competitive team.

  6. Marty says:

    Like one of the previous comments this guy is no longer a factor. These bs articles fail to mention the lack of being able to lead a team. Last couple seasons were pathetic in my observation. (Low % shots and zero defense). LA getting in the postseason would be a major accomplishment.

  7. JA says:

    Naah, just the normal publicity stunts… We all know it is already past kobe time and Lakers keeping him as they cant sign a big name to generate income for them. But playing for the sake of money and fame never produce quality end results. Up to the next generation to shine,,,

  8. Bas says:

    Haters are gonna hate. You guys are so predictable. Shame on you.

  9. nexsis24 says:

    This can be Looked at in various ways…1- The 2+ yrs Kobe hasn’t played can be a Blessing because that’s less wear and tear on his body those 2+ yrs…..2- It can be the beginning of the end if he feels he can’t perform to his standards of excellence. 3- Kobe plays Above the shoulders and relies less on his past athleticism.

  10. harriethehawk says:

    I agree that it will be amazing just to see the injured stars come back to full form, period. Last year was a rough year on Kevin Durant, Paul George, Randall, Kobe, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverly (he’s a jerk), Dru Holiday and Thabo Sefalosha of course.

  11. Jay says:

    Go Kobe! You know he will give his 200%. Haters can hate, but you can’t deny his work ethics.

  12. Lakergirl says:

    Average player?

  13. Clark says:

    Kobe is the G.O.A.T. @Rob you sleep if you think for a sec. that Kobe is an average player. Luckily, it’s foolish basketball minds like yourself that motivate Kobe Bryant to prove himself once more, although his resume speaks for itself. Go do your google’s, unlike back in the day you can look up any game he played and witness his greatness if you have access to the INTERNET.

    • Ken says:

      Kobe only cares about winning championships as most great players do….he’ll never win another one, period, end of debate. For the rest of his time in the league he’ll only be playing for respect, which he already has. Time to retire kobe.

  14. michael says:

    Reasoning tells me that Kobe is now 37 years old and is coming back from some serious injuries but you can never count out the mamba and his uncompromising will to compete. He is not quite the athlete he once was but remember, Kobe is one of the most gifted and skilled scorers the game has ever seen equipped with maybe the best footwork. He is also one of the best big shot makers and clutch players ever, probably second only to M.J. I know father time is undefeated and this is not the best talent that kobe has been surrounded by, but as long as he is on the floor the Lakers will compete to win some games. Making the playoffs would be a stretch in a loaded western conference but just having the Black Mamba back on the floor is good enough for now. Enjoy Lakers fans because you will never see another one like Kobe again!!!

  15. Rusty Parker says:

    I give him 30 games max before he gets injured again. Time is his greatest enemy.

  16. Brandon says:

    Kobe Bryant is great, he finds way to succeed at what he does, and what he does is be the best player he can be, last time we saw kobe which was last season he was leading the league in scoring, people that said kobe is average doesn’t know the game of basketball, when he has been healthy he has lead the league in scoring the 2 or 3 years but he hasn’t but know he is back.

  17. Purple & Gold says:

    I give them 47 wins this year and 7th seed. Kobe will light it up and all none Lakers fans will see reality. He will have a great year for everyone and see what he is all about. Chew on this and see the rookies learn greatness. Show time is back with head lines………

  18. Rob says:

    Kobe Bryant is not a big deal any more. The media super-hype machine and his often deluded fanbase is what’s keeping his career alive.

  19. PT says:

    The coaches won’t be or at least don’t need to dread Kobe Bryant’s return. He is now an average player and has been for a few years now. George Karl’s quote “I think he’s still probably capable of being an All-Star.” Bryant more than likely won’t be “capable” of being an All-Star with the strength in depth of west guards right now, but, as usual his fans will vote him in regardless.

  20. dustydreamnz says:

    How long will he stay healthy?

  21. Ry Cayabyab says:

    This is not even a question, Kobe will be back. Kobe will be Kobe, and the entire Philippines is watching. 🙂 #Vino

  22. Barnaby McBiscuits says:

    So long as he is healthy, he is going to do his thing.

  23. Kobe Fan says:

    Lets go LAKERS!! and KOBE!!

  24. mike jordan says:

    yeah..,great nba season..Kobe, Durant, DRose, PG playing

    it will be an exciting nba season once again

  25. Kobe-of-Manila says:

    Just watch Kobe and Lakers do their thing.. They will be back and ready.. Straight to playoffs and will be happy to reach the conference finals and hopefully the NBA Crown.. GO KOBE!! GO Lakers!! We are here for you all the way..

    • reggohllabam'i llabehtemevig says:

      @kobe-of-manila
      keep thinking DELUSIONAL dreams because in reality they are NOWHERE NEAR title contention, and I shouldn’t even bring up title with them this season because playoffs are still even a question mark for them. The Fakers will miss the playoffs a 3rd consecutive time.

    • Byrd says:

      The lakers will not reach the playoffs..thats wishful thinking…i’m a lakers fan and a kobe fan but i’m also a realist…the changing of the guards should have happen 2 seasons ago with the rebuilding process now we gonna drop to the bottom again

      • Rod says:

        You definitely are not a laker or Kobe fan….through thick or thin. They’ve been calling Kobe old or almost past his prime since he was 29, then came 3 finals appearances and 2 rings. He’s a ball hog, knockoff Jordan, 2nd to Lebron or McGrady, couldn’t win without shaq, or pau…..whatever he’s to all of you haters and bandwagon fans, he is a laker and is the best player on the best franchise ever!!!!