A certain significant player practiced with the Lakers, leaving coach Mike D’Antoni downplaying the significance both with perspective and humor.
“Steve Nash hasn’t practiced yet,” D’Antoni mused about his point guard who’s still sidelined for at least another week because of nerve pain in his back. D’Antoni then acknowledging everyone wanted to know about Kobe Bryant. He played five on zero and participated in shooting and strategy drills on Saturday, and showed healthy enough to follow that up during Sunday’s morning shootaround with some shooting drills.
“It wasn’t a practice per se,” D’Antoni said. “This was the first step.”
That’s good enough for Bryant to play tonight against the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center, right?
“He’ll play in the second half,” D’Antoni joked.
OK, well what about when the Lakers play Friday against the Golden State Warriors?
“I don’t think so,” D’Antoni said. “But I would say that’s very premature. There’s going to be a bunch of (games) before he’s back.”
The Lakers will have off on Monday, leaving all their players including Bryant to rest and recuperate. Will Bryant follow that up by participating Tuesday in a full contact practice?
“I don’t know,” D’Antoni said. “Those will be full blown practices, probably certain areas of it. But it’s too early to tell.”
It’s too early to tell a lot of things. How many practices Bryant needs before his return. How his Achilles tendon will feel following each moment of progress. When Bryant will actually play in the game. The Lakers haven’t offered any timetable, and D’Antoni refused making proclamations.
After all, D’Antoni sounded skeptical Bryant would return before Thanksgiving because he had no idea when he would begin practicing. A day later, Lakers trainer Gary Vitti informed D’Antoni that Bryant could start doing that.
“I don’t anticipate. I have no idea. Your’e dealing with if he’s sore today or if there’s a setback tomorrow,” D’Antoni said. “That’s the first step and there’s a lot of steps to be taken. We need to be cautious. There’s a lot of steps to be taken. I just think we need to be cautious. We just better be cool and chill out a bit.”
That’s because D’Antoni made very little of Bryant’s first practice.
“All the players went about 60 percent,” D’Antoni said. “Nobody was taped. There wasn’t any real contact. It wasn’t a normal practice.”
Did Bryant show anything?
“Nothing more than normal. It’s a normal process with an injured guy coming back,” D’Antoni said. “Obviously with him on the floor, there is a presence. But we just did so little, it’s hard to too far. He went at a pretty good pace. He surprised people that the pace was really good.”
“He did some drives and jumping. But without anyone on him…,” D’Antoni trailed off.
So no dunking?
“Two 360’s and he threw the ball off to the side of the wall and dunked it one time. Other than that…”D’Antoni mused before trailing off again.
Other than that, the excitement has built surrounding Bryant’s return because of what he could do for a fledgling Lakers team with a 4-7 record. But that hasn’t matched what he actually has shown on the floor just yet.
“The name on the back of his jersey, that’s where it starts and stops right now,” D’Antoni said. “We know what he’s capable of. It’s just a process of getting back. He’s a presence, no doubt. We need that process at the end of games. We got games to win and there’s going to be a bunch of them when he comes back. We’ll have to do our business.”
Bryant’s done his business by exercising patience. For all the team accounts that have described Bryant as knowing his body well, they also concede his competitive nature prompts him to push through injuries. But during his latest recovery, Bryant has repeatedly emphasized the need only to return once he’s fully healthy.
“I would say Kobe’s a pretty intelligent guy,” D’Antoni said. “It doesn’t surprise me. He’s going to try to do it right. Your will can’t trump what the doctor and trainer says. You do have to have patience.”
Meanwhile, D’Antoni stressed the Lakers need to have that mindset both with Bryant’s recovery and how the Lakers perform even when he returns.
“The focal point will change totally,” D’Antoni said. “We won’t search about who we’re going to at the end of games. There will be some struggles early. There’s no way he comes back with everything. But at the same time, his 10 percent is better than most people.”
Last season, Bryant averaged 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting, six assists and 5.6 rebounds, thanks to a well-balanced dose of dunks, drives to the basket and mid-range jumpers. Because of Bryant’s injury, will he have to rely more on his post game?
“We’ll see. If it works, it works,” D’Antoni said. “The mid-range game is not something you’d like to go to all the time. But he’ll be a catch-and-shoot. He’ll be what he is. He’ll drive, post up. His post ups are great. We’ll get him at the elbow. We’ll get him in the spots that he’s normally good at it.”
And with that, the questions surrounding Bryant ended for now. So D’Antoni soon walked away. He then turned back to remind the media one thing.
“Oh yeah, we play Detroit tonight,” D’Antoni said, laughing. “We’re ready.”
For now, that will have to be without Bryant.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org