The Lakers’ star walked through the practice court with the usual bluster. Kobe Bryant also met the usual fanfare with cameras and reporters shouting questions and latching on to every word.
But underneath Bryant’s outward confidence and the attention surrounding him during the Lakers’ media day, the Lakers’ start conceded uncertainty on several fronts.
It started with how the Lakers will fare entering the 2015-16 season with a roster headlined by the 37-year-old Bryant, seven-year forward Roy Hibbert and a crop of young players in D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.
“Not sure,” Bryant said on Monday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “I think the guys have all worked hard this summer I’ve worked hard this summer. But It’s a big question mark. We have a lot of young guys. It’s a good mix – we have some veterans as well. But guys have never played together before, so it remains to be seen.”
The uncertainty continued with how Bryant will have to adjust his role after nursing three season-ending injuries in consecutive seasons.
“It’s hard; I don’t know what to expect,” Bryant said. “My philosophy has always been, whatever you are asked to do, try to be the best at doing it. Whatever the role, you’ve got to figure it out. Whatever it is, try to do it to the best of your ability.”
The uncertainty lingered on whether Bryant’s 20th NBA season that will pay him $25 million will also mark his last one.
“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” Bryant said. “Hell if I know. I don’t know.”
Bryant admitted he has never felt as much uncertainty at any point in his 19 NBA seasons.
Bryant reports feeling pleased with the team’s frequent attendance at voluntary workouts, but sounded skeptical anything could expedite the team’s development.
“I don’t think so,” Bryant said. “You can feed the information, you can put them in positions to learn, put them in positions to be successful, you let them run, you let them play, you let them succeed, you let them make mistakes. In terms of how to speed it up? I don’t think so.”
Bryant has fully healed from his surgically repaired right shoulder, but he is only a season removed from averaging 22.3 points on a career-low 37.3 percent. Lakers coach Byron Scott also said he has not formalized a plan yet on restricting Bryant’s minutes, though it’s expected he will sit out portions of practices and back-to-back games.
“I expect Kobe to play great,” Scott said. “I expect him to be Kobe, but not to the Kobe that we were so used to seeing maybe 10 years ago, or five years ago. I just really got to watch the minutes and the workload that he has to take on on a day-to-day basis. You’re not going to see Kobe jumping all over the rim like he used to do, you’re not going to see that type of athleticism. “He’s still probably the smartest player in this league. He’ll still be able to get things done. But like I said, I really got to micromanage those minutes.”
And Bryant struggled offering any indicator that will tell him whether he will prolong his career following the 2015-16 season.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Bryant said. “I’ve thought about it a little bit in terms of, what is the deciding factor? How do players actually know when it’s time to hang them up, truly? Everybody kind of gives you guys the standard cookie-cutter answers – relaxing, golfing, spending time with the family, things like that. But, really, how do you truly know? And I don’t know. I’ll have a much better answer when that time comes for me.”
But until then, Bryant vowed he will embrace the process.
He dismissed any concern about playing at small forward. Bryant also downplayed how he and the Lakers will manage his minutes.
“I don’t need to think about it,” Bryant said. “You guys can think about it for me. I don’t worry about it.”
Bryant downplayed Knicks president and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson recently saying Bryant may leave the Lakers following this season.
“Everybody is going to have opinions, Bryant said. “I can’t comment on every single opinion that everybody makes, even if it’s a coach that I won so many championships with and know extremely well. It’s still his opinion. There will be many others.”
Bryant noted that his left Achilles injury added more perspective on staying positive this season since he faced far more limitations then. That left him nonplussed on any skepticism he faces for staying healthy again.
“There’s been some form of criticism every single year,” Bryant said. “It’s old hat for me. I’m used to dealing with all that stuff.
Bryant also made no mention about winning an NBA championship, narrowing his season’s agenda on staying healthy and developing teammates.
“Hopefully we’ll be healthier than we were and we can get through training camp without having any significant injuries,” Bryant said. “I think the young guys that we have. I think the energy that they’re bringing to the game and I think it’s going to be infectious.”
But that does not mean Bryant will not fret if the Lakers encounter any struggles.
“It’s patience, but it’s an aggressive patience,” Bryant said. “You want to make sure that we’re pushing and pushing and pushing and trying to figure things out like yesterday so we can figure them out tomorrow.”
Among the pressing questions he wants answered.
How much will Bryant evolve his game?
“It’s being a constant learner and trying to figure things out and ask questions and self-assess,” Bryant said. “I learned a great deal my first year and continue to do so today.”
Will Bryant morph more from scorer to teacher?
“I’m not really sure what that stuff means, honestly,” Bryant said. “I think a lot of that stuff is media conversation or debatable content. The reality is, we’re all mentors, we’re all teachers in our own respects. Whether that means scoring a lot more or assisting a lot more – whatever the case may be – depends on the identity that the team takes on. It’s my responsibility to plug in those holes where we’re lacking. That’s the best I can answer your question. It’s tough to say.”
How much space will Bryant give to his teammates to figure things out on their own?
“You just go out there and play and teach when the time is right and know when to step in and know when to step out,” Bryant said. “The important thing is allowing the players to develop and being there for them when they have questions or challenges.”
How long will it take for his teammates to grasp those lessons?
“How quickly we can grasp concepts, because we have a lot of young guys,” Bryant said. “It’s a matter of how quickly they can transition out of collegiate style of ball to pro style of ball. It’s a different pace, different strategy, different concepts.”
All of which cannot be answered until the Lakers play a game, leaving Bryant eager to start his next journey.
“I’m excited to be back on the court,” Bryant said. “I’m excited to be out there with the young players who are starting their careers, starting their journeys. I’m excited to help them out and kind of show them things I’ve learned. I’m as excited for this season as I’ve been in a long time.”