As he sat on a trainer’s table adjacent to the practice courts, Kobe Bryant appeared in high spirits.
Part of that had to do with his strained and bruised right foot that’s kept him out for five practices and two preseason games in the past week.
“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” Bryant said.
Is it good enough to play?
Bryant says there’s a “85 percent” chance he will appear in the Lakers’ season opener Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks. Should he play, Bryant said he will wear thicker soles in his shoes.
Although he wasn’t limited in any fashion during the team’s shootaround, Bryant doesn’t want to take chances. He wants to see how his foot responds this afternoon after running, Brown estimates, for 45 minutes. Then, the Lakers’ training staff will determine whether they’ll clear Bryant to suit up.
“If not, it’s one of those injuries that you can play through and heal as you play,” Bryant said. “If it does get worse, you can’t go.”
Assuming he dresses up, Bryant wouldn’t expect any limitations on the Lakers’ back-to-back slate against Dallas (Tuesday) and at Portland (Wednesday). Should Bryant play, Lakers Coach Mike Brown said he would base any minute restrictions on what Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti tells him about Bryant’s injury.
“I never get clearance,” he said with a chuckle. “Either I’m ready to go or I’m not ready to go. They’ve done a great job treating me and getting me ready. We’ve been together for so long. They trust my judgment.”
Bryant’s injury stems from tripping over Sacramento forward Thomas Robinson while cutting into the lane in the Lakers’ exhibition loss Oct. 21 to the Kings. Bryant stayed in the game, finishing with 21 points on 6 of 12 shooting. But Bryant’s foot worsened afterwards.
The Lakers’ star compared his latest mishap to a “soccer injury” because the contact struck both the bottom of his foot and ankle.
“Ankle sprains really don’t bother me anymore,” Bryant said. “I’ve rolled it so many times that I don’t have anything left down there. This one is more like an ankle contusion. The swelling went down to the tendon that reaches my foot and I couldn’t put any pressure on it.”
That’s why Bryant spent the past seven days icing his knee and receiving unspecified medicine. He avoided taking the Lakers’ trip to San Diego in the preseason finale to prevent further pain from a 2 1/2 hour bus ride down and back.
Bryant’s appeared full of energy and efficiency in six preseason games, averaging 20.4 points on 50 percent shooting, 4.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 26.8 minutes per game. But Bryant has had to monitor his injuries closely during training camp. He sat out of the Lakers’ double practice session Oct. 5 because of a sore right foot. Bryant also missed the Lakers’ preseason loss Oct. 9 against Portland in Ontario because of an injured right shoulder that has since healed. His latest injury sidelined Bryant for five practices and two preseason games. Brown noticed Bryant acted “a little chippy at first” during his rehab process.
“It was the most frustrating [injury],” Bryant said. “When you’re dealing with tendons, there’s nothing you can do therapy wise. If you treat it with manual therapy, the worse it gets. It’s kind of just a waiting game. Just waiting and allow it to heal on its own, which is pretty frustrating.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers went 0-8 during the preseason, the team’s worst start since tracking preseason statistics in 1982. Bryant sounded concerned about the Lakers’ turnovers (18.63). He shrugged off the fact the Lakers’ starting lineup in Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace played in preseason game together.
“The times we were out there and player together – me, Steve, Metta, Pau and Dwight – we were kicking [tail] pretty well and played pretty well,” Bryant said. “I don’t have concerns in that department. The concern i have are the turnovers, which has something to do with the rhythm of the offense and getting used to that. We turn the ball over. It’s a challenge to get back.”
“The transition will be all right if we don’t turn the ball over,” he continued. “The reality of it is we’re too old to turn the ball over and get back in transition fast enough to stop some of these teams. It’s just not going to happen. We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball.”
Still, Bryant noted progress both in the team’s play and in his foot.
He spent the Lakers’ practice Monday both receiving treatment on a trainer’s table adjacent to the practice court and occasionally standing up to provide feedback. In between one drill, Bryant talked with Lakers Coach Mike Brown. He also recalled Bryant hissing and then giving instruction during the team’s full-court scrimmage.
“For me it was about challenging our second unit. When I’m practicing, it’s about beating the crap out of them. When I was on the sideline, I wasn’t on the blue team. had a chance to have a chit chat with them and have words of encouragement and get them riled up a little bit.”
The Lakers would sure like Bryant to rile them up with an on-court appearance.He’s missed only 103 games in his 16-year career. The Lakers are 28-29 without Bryant in the lineup during the post-Shaquille O’Neal era. Bryant’s two steals shy of surpassing Magic Johnson’s franchise record (1,724). And of course, Bryant relishes the moment to play through numerous injuries.
Even with the progress he’s made, though Bryant wants to stay careful.
“Of course I want to play,” he said. “But we put together a great roster and worked really hard this summer to get myself in tip top shape. I’m not going to play with an injury that will get progressively worse and limp through the season. I worked too hard for that.”
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