DENVER — It seemed the good times would last forever for Kobe Bryant as winning NBA championships and ascending among the league’s elite instantly became the norm.
But then Brian Shaw offered some perspective on the dangerous terrain that would later await.
“He always felt invincible,” said Shaw, who played with Bryant when he won three of his NBA titles from 2000-2002 and served as an assistant coach when he won two more championships in 2009 and 2010. “I would always say to him, ‘Father Time will catch up with you at some point and ice will be your best friend.'”
Shaw, who is in the beginning of his first year as the Denver Nuggets coach, offered that early conversation to foreshadow the obstacle Bryant currently faces as he rehabs his torn left Achilles tendon. Shaw estimates he and Bryant still talk “once or twice a month,” and even he conceded he has no idea when the Lakers’ star will return.
But Shaw has noticed that Bryant has taken a more patient approach entering his 18th season about his injuries than perhaps he would in the past.
“He understands at this point. Even when he was pushing to try to be back at the beginning of the season, that particular injury is a tough one,” Shaw said. Especially with the wear and tear he has on his body, it’s made him take a step back, take a deep breath and say, ‘This is one I actually have to allow to fall in place and take care of itself.”
Bryant traveled with the Lakers for their game Wednesday against Denver at Pepsi Center, but the team hasn’t offered a timetable on when he will play, let alone practice. Bryant has spent this week increasing his running drills, including sprints.
“If anybody can come back and defy the odds in terms of the injury he’s dealing with, my money would be on him to come back from that,” Shaw said of Bryant. “I know he’ll do everything in his power to strengthen up the area that’s injured and give himself a chance to come back and play at the level he’s accustomed to playing.”
Bold expectations considering Bryant averaged 27.3 points last season on 46.3 percent shooting, six assists and 5.6 rebounds. Then again, there’s a reason Shaw said spent the last two seasons as Indiana’s associate coach and his first head-coaching gig in Denver telling his players about Bryant’s work ethic. Shaw recalled Pacers guard Paul George and Nuggets reserve Quincy Miller peppering Shaw about how Bryant approaches his craft.
“It’s been one of my best tools,” said Shaw. “It doesn’t always resonate with everyone. There is a uniqueness to Kobe with his will to compete and want to be the best and thirst for being the best that no one else has. I understand that. But anytime I can use a story or analogy to movitate guys and make them understand what it takes to be good and perform on that level night in and night out, especially when every team is game planning to stop you, I use it every time I can.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org