As he makes the long journey toward fully healing his left Achilles tendon, Kobe Bryant’s remaining pragmatic in measuring his progress. He’s offered no timetable on his return. Bryant’s provided no assurances on how he might look in a game. He remains hesitant in anticipating his upcoming practice schedule because of both the seriousness surrounding his injury and how unpredictable his ankle will respond to each benchmark.
That’s why it should be hardly surprising that Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni revealed a somewhat subdued progress report after seeing Bryant practice Wednesday in what marked his second consecutive day playing in full-court, five-on-five drills.
“Kobe looks good. He hasn’t played since April. He looks rusty,” D’Anton said Wednesday at the Lakers’ All-Access event at Staples Center, hosted by the LA Sports & Entertainment Commission. “I thought the first day he looked better than the second day. But that’s normal to have a little dip. But he’s not too sore and he’s playing.”
Whether Bryant’s ankle becomes sore on Thursday morning marks one of the many unanswered questions surrounding him. When he will return? How will he play? Will Bryant stay a scorer or become a facilitator? To what degree can Bryant replicate last year’s output when he averaged 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting, six assists and 5.6 rebounds?
That’s why former Lakers teammate and current D-Fenders player development coach Luke Walton decided to playfully rib Bryant following his first practice.
“I was busting his chops a little bit. I was like, ‘Are you still able to score the ball out there on the basketball court?’” Walton recalled, drawing laughter. “It went from a friendly, laughing conversation to him having a stern face and looking at me like it was the craziest question he ever heard. He was so disrespected by the fact I asked him if he could still score the basketball.”
Very few believe Bryant will actually struggle in that area.
The Lakers allowed the media Tuesday to view the Lakers’ half-court five-on-five scrimmage, which featured plenty of images showing a lively Bryant. He made a pair of stepback jumpers over Nick Young and Xavier Henry. Bryant showed his mix of scoring and facilitating by driving for an open layup and feeding Wesley Johnson backdoor for an open shot.
“Just to have him out there raises the intensity of everybody across the board,” Lakers guard Jordan Farmar said. “Just his presence on the team and having him out there on a daily basis is going to help everybody.”
“He’s been doing a lot of fouling,” Young said, drawing laughter.
“Kobe calls it defense. Nick calls it fouling,” Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis said. “That’s what we have to deal with at practice.”
The Lakers also have to deal with the ongoing uncertainty on how Bryant’s practice participation will eventually morph into his return.
In his first practice, Bryant showed plenty of rust. He airballed a three-pointer. Bryant threw a few passes that deflected off his teammates. He also conceded he doesn’t have the enough timing and explosiveness to jump and run at full strength.
Still, with the Lakers (5-7) ranking 11th in the Western Conference, a diminished Bryant would still enhance the team’s play.
“If anybody can come back from any injury, it’s Kobe,” said former Lakers forward James Worthy. “He’s a special talent. We all have the gift of the mind, but he’s so strong. But I think Kobe will come back and see what the team has already been doing. He has the leadership qualities to be a teacher and let the young guys blend.”
“He’s not going to rush back into dunking everybody and cutting. He’s going to come back and fit in to what they need,” Worthy said. “He’s smart enough to be a facilitator and when they need him to score, I think he can do that. He’s limited a little bit. But I think he understands that. That’s great recognition on his part. He’s going to come back and be productive. He’s not going to come back unless he knows he can enhance what this team has already started.”
But first Bryant must prove that, a challenge he has thrived on during his entire 17-year NBA career. Even apparently from his former teammates.
“It’s what I love about Kobe. He’s the ultimate competitor and has confidence off the roof,” Walton said. “With his will power and skill he has, he might not be able to dunk on people like he used to. But he definitely will be able to find ways to score the basketball at the end of games like he’s needed to.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at email@example.com