In what marked the first time training on a basketball court since fracturing his left knee nearly five months ago, Kobe Bryant worked out Monday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo for about two hours.
Bryant had tweeted last week he would begin training today after taking a short trip both to France on a family trip and to doctors in Germany where he had previously had the so-called Orthokine treatment on both of his knees.
“First of all, I did not know he was leaving town. Second of all, I think it’s a bigger story to everybody here than it really is to us,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said of Bryant’s trip at the Lakers’ exit interview on Friday. “We had a tough year. Kobe’s had a really tough two years. He’s had two career-threatening injuries. He’s had to live through the season that we had to live through together. This is his 18th year in the NBA. Although I haven’t spoken to him in the last day or two, I understand leaving town he is going to see his medical consultant in Europe. So, all things considered, to me, it’s not that big of a deal.”
After staying sidelined for all but six games this season, Bryant has kept a relatively low profile. For the past two months, Bryant skipped traveling with the team and channeled his efforts into rehabbing his left knee. Bryant attended the Lakers’ team photo last month and the picture showed him as fairly edgy. He also has expressed disinterest in playing Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced system, with those close to him saying he’s concerned how he will would play at such a pace following two major injuries. He had spent last year rehabbing his left Achilles tendon for seven months. D’Antoni described his relationship with Bryant as “professional.”
“He’s a very competitive, big-time competitor; he’s going to do everything in that to win,” D’Antoni said Friday in his exit interview. “I think I’m competitive and I’ll do anything to win. Sometimes it does butt heads a little bit, but nothing out of the ordinary.”
D’Antoni served as an assistant coach for USA Basketball where Bryant won two Olympic gold medals in Beijing (2008) and London (2012). Bryant had also called D’Antoni an “offensive genius” shortly after he was hired to coach the Lakers five games into last season.
“Losing does it,” D’Antoni said. “Losing grates on everybody. That’s the biggest thing. There’s not a problem that can’t be overcome. You sit down, do it and get on the same page. That’s not an issue. When you lose and certain things go different ways, you get frustrated. Some people make comments as players every once in a while. It’s just the frustration, and it happens with everybody. I’m sure all of you come home after work and rant and rave to your wife and we happen to rant and rave in front of you [media] guys. That’s not great, but it happens. Then you get back and figure this out.
D’Antoni then added, “One thing that I know is that he will do everything to win, and as a coach that’s kind of all you can ask for.” Bryant missed the first 19 games while rehabbing his left Achilles tendon. Before his knee injury, Bryant appeared in six games, averaging 13.8 points on 42.5 percent shooting, 6.3 assists and 5.7 turnovers in 29.5 minutes. Bryant is under contract through the 2015-16 season for $48.5 million.
Incidentally, Bryant labeled D’Antoni as “his first choice” following Mike Brown’s firing, saying he was unaware Phil Jackson was even a candidate. Last month, Bryant challenged the Lakers’ front office to decide “what they’re going to do with Mike.” D’Antoni and the Lakers’ front office plan to meet at some point in the next two weeks, but the team has repeatedly insisted D’Antoni remains the head coach. His contract is guaranteed next season for $4 million, while the Lakers have a team option on the 2015-16 campaign.
“I’ve been around Kobe long enough to know how he thinks,” Kupchak said. “I’m not really that concerned about it.”