In what marked his first full practice since tearing his left Achilles tendon seven months ago, Kobe Bryant provided an encouraging sign on his pending return in an actual game.
Can Bryant see himself returning sometime this month?
“Yeah I can,” Bryant said.
The Lakers play home games Friday against the Golden State Warriors and Sunday against the Sacramento Kings. They then embark on a week-long trip to Washington (Nov. 26), Brooklyn (Nov. 27) and Detroit (Nov. 29). But Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni urged caution
Would it surprise D’Antoni for Bryant to return Friday against Golden State?
“That would surprise me,” D’Antoni said.
Would that be impossible?
“Yes….that would be…well…nothing is impossible,” D’Antoni said. “But that would surprise me.”
Would it surprise D’Antoni for Bryant to play Sunday against Sacramento?
“Oh god. I don’t know when the surprise goes,” D’Antoni said. “We have to urge caution. It’s going to be a little bit.”
Either way, D’Antoni made it clear who’s deciding when Bryant will come back
“Do you know Kobe?” D’Antoni said. “You can guess whose decision that will be.”
Bryant wants to return as quickly as he can, obviously.
But after participating Monday in both half and full-court five-on-five drills, Bryant stressed how he will remain patient with his recovery. Even with the Lakers nursing a 5-7 record and a 11th place standing in the Western Conference, Bryant sounded more concerned about returning fully healthy than coming back earlier for the sake of minimizing potential losses.
“I have to detach myself somewhat in making sure when I come back, I’m ready to give the team the proper lift,” Bryant said. “It’s very tough to do. But it’s something that has to be done.”
Bryant’s participation in Monday’s practice marked what D’Antoni called as the “first step” in reaching that goal.
Bryant participated in full-court five-on-five drills that weren’t open to the media, though D’Antoni said he rested from time to time to temper his conditioning. In front of the media, Bryant played in half-court, five-on-five drills that featured him playing at the small forward position and teaming with Steve Blake (point guard), Jodie Meeks (shooting guard), Wesley Johnson (power forward) and Pau Gasol (center).
“It felt fine. I’ve been pretty good at conditioning,” Bryant said. “I didn’t feel tired. My legs didn’t feel tired at all.”
Bryant mostly guarded Young on defense. Bryant showed both some positive glimpses on offense and defense. Bryant mishandled a pass and airballed a three-pointer. But he also sank a pair of jumpers at the top of the key over Young and Xavier Henry by using his superior footwork. All in all, D’Antoni described Bryant as “pretty good” albeit “rusty.”
“I’m pleasantly surprised,” Bryant said. “I’m moving and doing some things as of late that mimic movements out on the floor. It’s always different when you get out there and start playing.”
Did Bryant do anything he hadn’t expected to complete in his first full practice?
“I’m able to hold my defenders off pretty easily with my offhand and maintain position in the post and things like that,” Bryant said. “I’m much much stronger now than I was.”
Still, Bryant sounded reluctant in knowing for sure whether he will maintain the same activity in practices Wednesday and Thursday. He wants to see how his body responds Thursday morning to avoid putting additional strain on his Achilles after increasing his workload.
“There’s areas that still need to be stronger in terms of jumping and being able to play quickly and change directions and things like that,” Bryant said. “Those are areas you have to get stronger. I can adjust my game and play at a pretty high level right now.”
That’s why the instant he stepped on the court in his first full practice since tearing his left Achilles tendon seven months ago, Bryant harkened back to a simpler time.
“It felt good. I put the jersey on and walked out for practice, it felt like it was 97 again and I was getting my first start as a pro,” Bryant said.
Bryant actually first started his third season in 1998, but the point was well taken. Even the 34-year-old Bryant who has won five NBA championships and earned a fourth place mark on the NBA’s all-time scoring finds excitement through simple pleasures after spending the past seven months away from the floor.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org