This should’ve marked the time Kobe Bryant’s gearing up for another season, proving Father Time still hasn’t won and that he can still lead the Lakers to another NBA championship.
But no matter how much he wants to, Bryant has forced himself to resist even with the Lakers less than a week away from their season opener Tuesday against the Clippers at Staples Center. After participating in some light shooting and jogging drills last week in China, Bryant said he “scaled back” his activity to allow his left Achilles tendon to heal from the added pressure. Despite conceding he wants to begin practicing with a ball in his hands, Bryant said he’s remained “steady” for one simple reason.
“Injuries to the lower extremities can always lead to something else,” Bryant said. “It’s not about waiting until I’m 100 percent necessarily. But it’s about making sure you’re running with the proper gate. We’re not putting stress on other areas that can cause problems down the road.”
Bryant spoke for the first time this week to reporters in Los Angeles as part of the NBA’s new rule that requires injured players to speak at least once a week. That left him with a lot of topics to address, including providing more detail on his unsuccessful pairing last season with Dwight Howard.
“We saw different ways of leading this team. Dwight wanted to do it one way, which he felt like was effective. I wanted to do it another way,” Bryant said. “There was constant tension.”
The Lakers still finished out the regular season 28-12 to finish with a seventh seed in the Western Conference.
“In the second half of the season, everything was able to fall in line,” Bryant said. “We wound up making a pretty good run at it. I think Pau [Gasol] stepping in and taking significant load of the offensive responsibilities is a big thing for us as well. It wound up getting Dwight a lot of easy ones and Pau got a lot of easy baskets for everybody else. Things fell in place and we were able to get into the playoffs.”
No matter how much Bryant sounded engaging, his biting and playful sarcasm revealed his irritation with numerous outside skepticism.
He called ESPN’s recently ranking him 25th “laughable” and “silly.” An anonymous survey of all 30 league general managers posted on NBA.com listing him as the second best shooting guard behind Houston’s James Harden. That marked the first time in the survey’s 12-year history the Lakers’ star didn’t receive top billing.
“I think they’re counting on me being on one leg,” Bryant said on the general manager’s poll. “They think I can’t come back from this injury.”
What does Bryant make of such skepticism?
“I try not to pay attention to it too much,” Bryant said. “It can get to you a little bit and make you impatient, especially when you hear the doubt with, ‘Will I be able to come back?’ It’s not, ‘Will I be able to come back and play well.’ It’s I won’t be able to come back and play well.”
It appears Bryant’s feeding off such doubts.
In his interview session, Bryant publicly called out an ESPN writer who considered his ranking “fair” in a playful albeit sarcastic tone. He told the reporter afterwards that ESPN’s employees “should be drug tested.” Last week, Bryant also changed his Twitter avatar to “1225” presumably in reference to ESPN’s pre-season Western Conference ranking on the Lakers (12) and his personal ranking (25). But Bryant joked his updated avatar actually refers to “my pet’s birthday.” He insisted “motivation has always been there for me, while describing the public skepticism as “cherry on top of the cake.”
“When you hear those things, you want to push and play right away to shut a lot of people up,” Bryant said. You have to be patient, rest and relax and come back when you’re ready. It’s a challenge right in front of your face. You really have to restrain yourself to get out there.”
How does he do that?
“Just try to be calm and try to be approaching it as the rest and the therapy and it’s all a part of training,” Bryant said. “A lot of times when you think of training, you think of weights and running. If only I looked at it from that standpoint, I’d drive myself crazy. I try to think of it as this process is part of the training as well. This will enable me to come back and get as close as 100 percent as I can.”
Yet, there are limits to Bryant’s patience. He expressed optimism this offseason he could play beyond his $30.5 million contract that ends this season, perhaps for another two to three seasons. But as much as he wants to add longevity to his career, he said he’s more consumed with something else.
“I’m thinking about this year,” Bryant said. “Obviously we all want to be healthy in years down the road. But the only thing I’m thinking about right now is getting as healthy as I can as quickly as possible so I can come back and try to help us make some noise.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org