BOSTON — The history surrounding the Lakers-Celtics rivalry forever intrigues Kobe Bryant, beginning with his childhood watching Magic Johnson and Larry Bird compete for championships and continuing during his 18-year career that included one of his five NBA titles in Boston.
But Bryant hardly sounded wistful about Johnson’s recent proposal that he should sit out the rest of the season both to fully heal his fractured left knee and left Achilles tendon considering the Lakers’ bleak playoff fortunes.
“The only thing I can afford to consider is getting better and getting strong,” Bryant said before the Lakers (14-25) played the Celtics (14-26) on Friday at TD Garden. “I can’t allow myself to think any other way. I can only think about the next day. To do anything else becomes distracting. You don’t allow yourself because you give yourself wiggle room not to push yourself as hard as you possibly can. If I think I’m going to sit out, this, that and the other, then the motivation is gone. I refuse to let that happen.”
Bryant has missed the past 14 games within the past month because of a fractured left knee. He doesn’t expect to receive an MRI on his knee until sometime in early February, dashing the Lakers’ initial hopes he could return Jan. 28 against Indiana. The Lakers currently rank 14th in the Western Conference and have lost 12 of their past 13 games. Whenever Bryant returns, the Lakers could fare much worse?
What’s the point in Bryant returning without a likely playoff berth to salvage?
“I don’t think about that,” Bryant said. “It’s my job to be ready. It’s my job to get myself in gear and do my job. From that perspective, it’s not my responsibility to think about missing games or whatever the case may be. It’s my job and responsibility to play.”
Johnson, a part owner of the Dodgers, argued otherwise about Bryant in a recent meeting with Los Angeles Times sports editors and writers.
“What is he coming back to?” Johnson said. “He’s not going to be able to stop the pick and roll, all the layups the Lakers are giving up. He’s been hurt twice, give him the whole year to get healthy.”
Johnson also blamed plenty of the Lakers’ fortunes on vice president of player personnel Jim Buss, including his role in hiring Mike D’Antoni last season over Phil Jackson.
“Normally I don’t hear it until you bring it up,” said D’Antoni, who added he hasn’t spoken to Johnson since his hiring. “I appreciate it. There’s voices everywhere. It’s a hard job to do no matter team you’re with and you do the best you can do and you feel like everyday is a new battle. Everybody has their opinion. There’s a nice saying about that. That’s the way it is. You go on and do your job.”
So far, the Lakers haven’t done that, prompting Bryant to mentally force himself to think about hanging out at the beach instead of witnessing a once storied franchise head south.
“It’s been very difficult and very frustrating. I try to detach from it as much as possible. I feel like it taking David or Bruce Banner and putting him in the middle of a bar fight and hopw he doesn’t become the Hulk,” Bryant said, referring to the popular comic book series. “That’s what I feel like watching these games.”
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