The question marks surrounding Kobe Bryant’s return go beyond his health. It also has involved an ESPN The Magazine article portraying Bryant as deterring the Lakers’ rebuilding than actually helping it, unnamed rival executives and agents and apparent Lakers insiders that say his dominating personality and two-year, $48.5 million has scared off free agents.
But the Lakers paint a different picture.
“He’s the last of a dying breed,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said of the 36-year-old Bryant. “When he’s gone, all of this stuff that’s being said, people will start looking back and see how much they miss him. He has an old school spirit. He brings a lot to the table. He has a lot of pride in what he does and takes the game seriously. To him, it’s all about winning. Not a lot of guys in this league think that way.”
Bryant will play in the Lakers’ season opener tonight against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center, his first regular-season game since suffering a season-ending left knee injury nearly 10 months ago. Bryant’s return also coincides with matching up against Dwight Howard for the first time since he left the Lakers two summers ago. They never enjoyed an acrimonious relationship, the pairing marking an example on how Bryant scared away marquee players from ensuring the Lakers’ franchise stays strong.
This season’s Lakers have characterized Bryant differently. Veteran forward Carlos Boozer went on a two minute monologue gushing about Bryant’s leadership style.
“He’s been absolutely amazing,” Boozer said. “I didn’t know coming here. He’s after us practicing everyday, running sprints every day and getting extra shots and in the weight room. He’s teaching the guys, talking, and mentoring. Not just one or two guys, the whole team. If he sees something that can help, he says it. He has a great basketball IQ. He studies the game and has been a student of the game for a long time.”
Boozer was just getting started.
“He knows at the highest level more than we do,” Boozer said. “He’s won five times and looking for his sixth one. We all pay attention and try to learn as much as we can from him. Then he’s out there showing us too. That’s what makes him special compared to other stars in the league. He takes the time to teach his teammates what he sees and helps us be on the same page. Again, for him, it’s all about winning. If I can show him this or show him that, it’ll help us win games maybe not now but in January or make a playoff push, it’ll sink in then. He thinks that far ahead.”