Kobe Bryant walked gingerly across the Lakers’ practice floor, a sign that he’s both progressing surrounding his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon and eager for the 2013-14 season to start.
It’s also a sign that, despite what a skeptical general public may think, Bryant remains optimistic about the Lakers’ championship prospects.
“Our expectations are always the same with every single season,” Bryant said. “That’s to improve every single day with the mindset to win a championship. That’s the goal we have to have. The only way you can do that is coming out every single day working, understanding each other and supporting each other.”
A large variable, of course, hinges on Bryant. When Bryant will actually step on the court to play, let alone practice, remains anybody’s guess.
“I feel good, but I don’t think we really have a timetable of where I should be right now,” Bryant said at Lakers’ media day Saturday at the team’s facility in El Segundo. “But I’m feeling good.”
Bryant has recently progressed to run at 80 percent of his body weight on a weight-bearing treadmill, according to Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. Bryant also added he advanced to ladder exercises to improve his footwork without attempting to sprint. He then plans to advance to unspecified defensive and conditioning drills before fully practicing.
Both Bryant and D’Antoni sounded unsure whether Bryant would play in the Lakers’ season opener Oct. 29 against the Clippers, let alone any of the team’s eight preseason games through Oct. 25.
“I need to get in shape, but it doesn’t really take me long to do that,” Bryant said. “I work hard at it. When I get back on the court, I’ll be good to go. I don’t think I’ve ever played a season where I was 100 percent. So, like 78%, is fine.”
It sure better be for the Lakers, which hardly boasts the same championship expectations as last season because of Dwight Howard’s departure, the team’s first-round exit to San Antonio, and of course, the uncertainty surrounding Bryant’s health. The Lakers also have other health concerns.
Lakers guard Steve Nash has fully progressed from his right hamstring, back and broken left leg that sidelined him for a combined 32 games last season. But Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni plans to limit Nash both in training camp and in games. Lakers forward Pau Gasol reported progress with his knees after having a procedure this offseason to decrease the tendon pain in his knees. But Gasol admits he’s not fully healed and hasn’t completely many basketball drills yet.
“Health is always a concern,” Bryant said. “That can really cripple a team as it did for us last year. Hopefully we won’t have to deal with those issues and won’t have guys who are out for last periods of time.”
Bryant suffered the injury April 12, shattering any optimism on the Lakers’ already slim playoff hopes. That also coincided with Bryant playing an average of 45.6 minutes per game in the last seven contests, though the Lakers labeled his injury as more of a freak occurrance than any product of heavy playing time.
Even with the Lakers’ success likely resting on Bryant’s return and effectiveness, he stressed he won’t let that variable compromise the patience needed to ensure a full recovery.
“I’ll wait until I’m ready to go,” Bryant said. “Our goal is to win a championship. That’s our expectation. But if we’re struggling and I can’t go because I’m physically not ready, I’m not going to jump out.”
Nonetheless, Bryant has tried everything this offseason to ensure a speedy recovery.
He had surgery on his Achilles the day after his injury. Lakers strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFranceso and physical therapist Judy Seto traveled with Bryant on trips to China, Italy and Brazil. The Lakers have also said Bryant has visited the team’s facility for treatment anytime he’s in town.
Still, Bryant did one thing that made the Lakers cringe. He jumped off a 40-foot high dive and later posted a recording of it on Vine, a social media video player. But Bryant simply laughed about his antic.
“I got out and jumped again; I just didn’t vine that,” Bryant said with a grin. “I felt great. I just wanted to go out and have fun.”
Bryant sure appeared in that mind, despite arriving in Los Angeles a mere three hours before media day after visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi in recent days as part of his Health & Fitness Weekend aimed to address diabetic issues. That is, until someone brought up Dwight Howard’s departure to the Houston Rockets.
“I really don’t give a…,” Bryant said. “It is what it is. If he came back, it would’ve been great. If he didn’t, then it’s not. It is what it is.”
Instead, Bryant raved about the team’s athleticism, the versatility Chris Kaman and Gasol have in the post and having a full training camp under D’Antoni.
Still, Bryant shared a few pressing concerns.
The first variable involved how the Lakers can thrive on defense with Howard and Metta World Peace.
“I think you’ve got to look at Nick Young. I think you’ve got to look at Wesley Johnson,” Bryant said. “It’s on us to kind of train them up a little bit, teach them various things and tricks to try to get them to that point.”
He then suggested the Lakers should play at the same methodical pace that ensured them a 28-12 record to close out last season.
“We’re not an up-and-down, run-and-gun type of team by any stretch of the imagination,” Bryant said.
Despite all the uncertainty surrounding his injury and the team’s dynamics, the 35-year-old Bryant enters the final year of his contract with high hopes.
“Another championship,” Bryant said with a grin. “That’s an easy one.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at email@example.com