OAKLAND — Nearly four hours from now, Kobe Bryant will arrive at the Oracle and complete a routine that seems customary. He will receive treatment on his sore right shoulder and the tendinitis in his right Achilles. He will talk with doctors. Perhaps he will complete a pre-game warmup.
Whenever that happens, what will Lakers coach Byron Scott need to see for Bryant to play when the Lakers (9-31) visit the Golden State Warriors (36-3) on Thursday at the Oracle?
“Tell me he’s good. That’s it,” Scott said after morning shootaround on Thursday. “If he says, ‘Coach, I’m good,’ we’ll go from there.”
Scott currently considers Bryant a game-time decision after he played only 16 minutes in Tuesday’s win over New Orleans amid increasing pain in his right Achilles. But Scott had revealed on Wednesday that Lakers trainer Gary Vitti had recommended shutting Bryant down for one or two weeks. Scott deferred questions to Vitti on whether he still holds that opinion after Bryant had another day of recovery. But the Lakers stressed Bryant has maintained medical clearance from team doctors to play.
All of which suggests Bryant will largely determine his playing status, something Scott sounded more than willing to accommodate out of respect for Bryant playing in his 20th and final NBA season.
“If his intention is to play, I have to honor his intentions. It’s his last year,” Scott said. “If he wants to play, I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘No, you can’t play,’ especially when I know he’s able and willing to go out and play. He may not play great and be 100 percent healthy. But he feels it’s an obligation to do that. So I’m behind him 110 percent.”
Scott then shared that he plans to find a “happy medium” in two areas considering Bryant has also missed three games earlier this month with soreness in his right shoulder.
Scott maintained Bryant will play fewer than the 30-32 minutes he has played on most nights this season, though he declined to outline an exact number. Although he said he will defer to Bryant on his playing status, Scott added he “absolutely” is willing to overrule Bryant over his playing time.
“I have to think about him,” Scott said. “I understand what he’s thinking about, believe me. But I have to think about his well being.”
Scott did not want to limit Bryant’s minutes outright in the fourth quarter, arguing that “dictates how the game is being played and how our younger guys are playing.” But Scott added he feels “more comfortable” sitting Bryant in the fourth quarter in favor of the Lakers’ young players than he did earlier in the season. In the Lakers’ 118-115 loss last week to Sacramento, Bryant sat the entire fourth quarter while D’Angelo Russell posted a career-high 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting. During Bryant’s absence against New Orleans, 10-year NBA veteran Lou Williams led the Lakers to a comeback win.
“They showed they were able to compete and focus and sustain that focus in the fourth quarter where they gave ourselves the opportunity to win the game,” Scott said. “When you’re inexperienced these guys are at this level, you’re going to fall down a few times and lose a few games. But in the long run, it’s going to help you.”