The accomplishments on Kobe Bryant’s basketball resume provides every indication he can stay on the mountaintop of greatness. His five NBA championships provides various flash points in his career that involved temporarily co-existing with another star (Shaquille O’Neal) and morphing into a more established leader amid a dependable supporting cast (Pau Gasol). Bryant’s fourth-place ranking on the NBA’s all-time scoring list shows his consistent ability to score in too many ways to count. His extensive pain threshold suggests the same.
Yet, Bryant enters the 2014-15 season with fair skepticism on how he will play namely because of the unprecedented challenges that await him. How does he stay healthy after suffering significant injuries to his left Achilles tendon and left knee that kept him sidelined last season for all but six games? How does Bryant return to an elite level after not playing a competitive basketball game in nearly nine months? How does Bryant find any degree of balance in maximizing his play without putting too much burden on his body?
Lakers coach Byron Scott remains mindful of those concerns. But in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSeJBzJwlwM" interview with Fox Sports Live, Scott conveyed optimism about Bryant’s fortunes after seeing a recent series of his individual workouts.
“It fuels his fire when people are doubting him,” Scott said. Championships fuel his fire. Kobe is going to surprise a lot of people this year.”
How Bryant does that will stay an unanswered question until he presumably appears in the Lakers’ preseason opener on Oct. 6 in San Diego’s Valley View Casino Center against the Denver Nuggets. Bryant has suggested he will rely on his superior fundamentals to offset any diminishing athleticism.
Before Scott’s eventual hire, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said he wanted the team’s next coach to feature Bryant prominently in the post. But will Bryant fulfill that job description by carrying the burden or will his supporting cast enable him to delegate?
“The man is driven. He’s ready,” Scott said. He’s still a guy capable of getting 25 points every single night. When I tell you that he’s going to surprise a lot of people this year and does he he still have it, the answer is yes, the Black Mamba is still the Black Mamba.”
Still, it appears Scott and Bryant feel mindful of the obstacles.
Bryant relied on his fundamentels in the six games he played last season, averaging 13.8 points on 42.5 percent shooting, 6.3 assists and 5.7 turnovers in 29.5 minutes. That marked a far cry from his career 25.5 points on 45.4 percent shooting, 4.8 assists and three turnovers in 36.6 minutes. The Lakers kept a flurry of last year’s role players (Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly) and new pieces (Jeremy Lin, Julius Randle, Ed Davis, Carlos Boozer). But those pieces may not offset Pau Gasol’s departure to Chicago or Steve Nash’s uncertainty surrounding a back injury that limited him last season to 15 games.
“We had just talked about basketball. He said, “We got our work cut out for us. Are you ready for the challenge?” Scott recalled a recent text messaging conversation with Bryant. “I texted him back with a smile on my face and said, I’m ready for the challenge and looking forward to it.”
Part of the reason: Scott feels convinced Bryant will jump over the hurdles facing him to ensure he writes a storied last chapter to his career.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org