Lakers’ Kobe Bryant sarcastically said he wants to “be average”

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) attempts a three point shot against Utah during the first quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game Sunday in Honolulu. AP Photo/Marco Garcia

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) attempts a three point shot against Utah during the first quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game Sunday in Honolulu. AP Photo/Marco Garcia

HONOLULU — The smirk formed on Kobe Bryant’s face. He listened to a question that cut to the core on what could determine his success or failure in his 20th and perhaps final NBA season.

What expectations did the Lakers star have for himself after experiencing three season-ending injuries in consecutive seasons? Bryant chuckled at the thought. He then resorted to playful sarcasm, mindful of the diminished expectations surrounding his return.

“Nothing. Be average,” Bryant said sarcastically after the Lakers’ 90-71 preseason loss to the Utah Jazz on Sunday at Stan Sheriff Center. “I’ll be average.”

Bryant obviously has higher aspirations after winning five NBA championships and climbing to third place on the league’s all-time scoring list. The Lakers obviously hope more from Bryant, who will earn $25 million this season. But Bryant couldn’t help but indirectly address all the question marks surrounding him after playing a combined 41 games in the past two seasons amid injuries to his left knee (Dec. 2014) and right shoulder (Jan. 2015).

The Lakers’ star hardly offered much of a rebuttal against Utah. He scored only five points on a 1-of-5 clip in 12 minutes, all in the first quarter. Bryant’s first attempt consisted of a contested 3-point shot against Utah guard Gordon Hayward that hit the side of the basket. At teh end of the first quarter, Bryant showed a series of pivots in the post before clanking on a mid-range jumper. Bryant did not score until sinking a 24-foot three-pointer with 4:27 left in the first quarter.

Yet, Lakers coach Byron Scott said Bryant “was pretty good” considering he hadn’t played in an NBA game in the past nine months. Bryant also looked comfortable moving off-the-ball at the small forward spot.

“He moved well and felt pretty well,” Scott said. “I like the way he’s moving out there. Right now, I’m excited about that.”

The partisan sell-out crowd of 10,300 fans were also excited about Bryant’s presence. So much that they constantly chanted Bryant’s name throughout the fourth quarter, in hopes that Scott would change his mind on his minute restriction. Bryant called that feedback “cool” and great” before waxing nostalgia on how he appeared in Hawaii during his rookie season 19 years ago.

“I thought they were crazy,” Scott said, laughing. “He hadn’t played in 2 ½ quarters. They didn’t really like I would put him back in, did they? It’s flattering I’m sure to him that they obviously want to see him play. As much as I love Hawaii, there’s a much bigger picture than these two games.”

After all, Scott still faults himself for playing Bryant too many minutes in the 2015-16 season. Bryant averaged 34.5 minutes per game, and even logged at least 40 minutes in three contests. Bryant then rested in eight of the next 16 games before tearing the rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

Hence, Bryant put more focus on his rhythm than how he actually performed.

“I felt pretty good,” Bryant said. “I felt pretty good to be out there.”

Well, almost.

Bryant conceded Scott’s conditioning-heavy practices slowed him down in his preseason debut.

“In the practice before, I played 40 minutes straight,” Bryant said. “My back was a little tight today from all that running.”

He also played the entire first quarter despite last playing in a game on Jan. 21, 2015. But Scott argued that strategy served Bryant better in building his rhythm, the main objective both Scott and Bryant had set beforehand.

“The longer he could go the better instead of taking him out, getting six or seven or eight minutes of rest and putting him back in cold.” Scott said of Bryant. “Then he has to get warmed up. With a whole quarter, he has a much better flow going on out there.”

Scott plans to increase Bryant’s playing time here on Tuesday against Utah. But Scott declined to offer specifics on how much, let alone what his minute limitation will become in the 2015-16 season.

But Bryant sarcastically set his own playing limitation. As Bryant walked away from reporters, one asked him to clarify what he meant by setting the bar so low.

“I’ll try to be the 93rd best player in the league,” Bryant said. “I’ll be average.”

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