Long after the rest of his teammates scattered, Kobe Bryant stayed on the practice floor hoisting jumper after jumper. The image showed both Bryant’s progression as he rehabs his left Achilles tendon and why he doesn’t feel comfortable returning when the Lakers play Friday against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena.
“I’m staying here,” Bryant said. “I’m not going up to lovely Sacramento.”
With Bryant describing his left Achilles tendon both as “pretty good” and “a little stiff,” can he return when the Lakers play Sunday against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center?
“I’m trying,” Bryant said. “We have to see how it feels tonight. I’m going to try to get another hard session again and tomorrow get in another hard session again. Same thing tomorrow evening.”
Bryant participated in all of Thursday’s practice without any limitations, though Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni jokingly described him as “fodder” on the team’s second unit. D’Antoni did that to accommodate the Lakers’ preparation against Sacramento without Bryant, Steve Nash (nerve issues in back) and Jordan Farmar (strained left hamstring).
“He looks good, but a little rusty,” D’Antoni said. “But he still looks like a dominant figure on the court. It’s what you’d expect him to be. He plays well. I don’t think it’s at All-Star level today, but he’ll make a big difference.”
Bryant had practiced for three consecutive days after staying confined toward individual workouts during the team’s trip last week to Washington, Brooklyn and Detroit. He had practiced for two consecutive days in mid-November before stopping after feeling general soreness in his left foot, the same one with the Achilles injury.
Since then, Bryant reported improvement in several areas, including his range of motion, how his ankle feels the following morning, his conditioning and his driving. But Bryant still sees weaknesses in his cutting and jumping. He also said scar tissue remains in his left ankle joint, which limits his mobility.
“You have your legs underneath you,” Bryant said. “There’s a conditioning aspect of it, which I feel 100 percent with proper stamina, running all day and running at a high speed. Basketball speed, you’re talking about plyometrics and changing directions and you have to gather yourself to shoot the ball. That’s getting your sea legs.”
That’s why Bryant echoed recent sentiments that he “probably” will face reduced playing time upon his return compared to the 38.5 minutes he logged the past two seasons.
“I’m getting underneath the sea legs,” Bryant said. “It takes time to do that. We have preseason games and you build to the regular season. IT takes a while no matter how much running and conditioning you do. To get out there and play is different. I’m sure I’ll be limited in some capacity.
In Tuesday’s practice open to reporters, Bryant took so much of a facilitating role that his lone field goal came on a fast-break dunk. Bryant will mostly play at shooting guard and small forward, but it’s likely he’ll have point guard responsibilities to accommodate the absences to Nash and Farmar.
“I’ll be the push man obviously and will get up and down,” said the 6-foot-6 Bryant. “Honestly it’s no more different than the way I played my entire career when I’m handling the ball and getting us into stuff and pushing it.”
Despite such absence, it’s clear Bryant’s exerted his influence with the team.
Last week, Bryant treated his teammates and staff members to Thanksgiving dinner in Detroit and participated in a series of ping-pong games. Team accounts describe his presence prompting the Lakers to bolster their play. During the practice sessions open to the media, Bryant and his teammates routinely engage in trash talking.
“I enjoy being around competitive people,” Bryant said. “I like to sit around, talk trash all day and compete and talk more trash afterwards. It’s fun. They don’t have much of a choice, but they’re starting to dish it back out. When they score, they talk trash to me and keep going back and forth. It makes for a fun practice.”
But not ones that show Bryant at his best. Hence, why Bryant remains cautious about his return.
“We have to really be smart about it,” Bryant said. “Perfect case scenario, we get it right the first time. IF not, we have to be smart about it as well and take it a step back and buld up the strength and say it’s not as ready as we thought it was going to be. Let’s take a step back and get it to where I want it to be.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org