Amid all the conversations I had with Jerry West covering the Lakers for the past four years, one comment always struck with me.
It involved nothing other than Kobe Bryant, and his ongoing quest to maximize his greatness with championships and points. After gushing about Bryant’s skillset, West offered some words of caution.
“There’s one opponent you can’t defeat and that’s age He will try that, by the way,” West said, offering a light laugh.
Bryant sure has tried. But after returning from a torn left Achilles tendon that sidelined him for eight months, Bryant didn’t look the same. Bryant averaged 13.8 points on 42.5 percent shooting, 6.3 assists and 5.7 turnovers in 29.5 minutes a game through six games, a far cry from his career clip of 25.5 points on 45.4 percent shooting in 36.6 minutes. Though Bryant progressively shed off his rustiness, a fractured left knee will keep him out for the next six weeks.
“When he was playing, to me he didn’t look like the same player,” West said recently on Dan Patrick’s radio show. “He hadn’t gotten to where he was real explosive. I think his shooting will always be there, but I’ve often wondered if he would have just rested another couple of months, would we have seen a different Kobe Bryant?”
But as West knows during his years as the Lakers general manager, that’s not how Bryant operates.
“He’s one of the toughest players I think you’ll ever see play this game,” said West, who serves on the Golden State Warriors’ executive board. “He doesn’t take no for an answer. He’s pretty much set in his ways about how he wants to approach it, but frankly just watching him play, he didn’t look like Kobe Bryant to me.”
The Lakers have had to deal with concerns beyond Bryant’s injury.
They have an ongoing issue at the point guard position, including injuries to Steve Nash (back), Steve Blake (right elbow) and Jordan Farmar (left hamstring).
That’s why West offered Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni nothing but praise for maximizing a roster full of castoffs.
“I think Mike D’Antoni has done an unbelievable job,” West said. “I can’t believe the job he’s done, because I don’t think this is one of the most talented Lakers team by far. “They have a bunch of players that have played with a lot of teams. He’s molded them. They really play hard.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org