The concerns about Kobe Bryant’s durability sounded ridiculous to the Lakers’ 37-year-old star. Then again, when has Bryant not found those questions dumb?
Bryant scoffed about any possible decline during his early 30’s as he won back-to-back NBA titles. Bryant laughed at it again when he received innovative treatments to push back Father Time. Bryant dismissed the uncertainties when he rehabbed from three season-ending injuries to his left Achilles tendon (April 2013), left knee (Dec. 2013) and right shoulder (Dec. 2015).
So it seemed hardly surprising that Bryant sneered again about his health during his 20th and final NBA season.
“What’s long-term?” Bryant asked rhetorically in early December. Bryant then joked with a reporter, “Equinox pick-up games, dude. I’ll post your (butt) up there. It doesn’t matter.”
Apparently it matters to Lakers coach Byron Scott.
He called it “50-50” that Bryant will play when the Lakers (14-55) host the Memphis Grizzlies (41-30) on Tuesday at Staples Center after missing six of the past 10 games with right shoulder soreness. But the variables on how much Bryant plays in the Lakers’ last 13 games goes beyond whether he feels just physically fine to compete that night.
“You have to look out for yourself, too. You want to make sure that you don’t do some serious serious damage to it and 10 years from now, you regret it,” Scott said. “I would love for him to play all the games just like you guys would and the fans. But I don’t think that’s possible.”
No doubt, Scott has mostly deferred to Bryant on his playing status. In the past month, Bryant has made it a bigger priority to play in final road games and at home games against either a marquee opponent or player. But Scott remained mostly concerned about Bryant’s status for the Lakers’ season finale on April 13 against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.
Said Scott: “I want you to play in that last game and be able to walk off the court.”
Bryant has stressed the same things, but what about his dismissiveness toward being healthy enough to play at Equinox during his retirement?
“He should be because I played in some Equinox pickup games and those games aren’t friendly,” Scott said, laughing. “Obviously he wasn’t real concerned about it [earlier]. I think he was all about he present. But as we got further and further along into the season, I think he also was thinking about the future.”
Yet, Scott sounded uncertain on what that future will entail.
“I can’t see him at a rec center. But it’s going to be interesting to see what he does,” Scott said. “I don’t know. He’s a type of guy that will have to find something else that will satisfy that craving he has with that competitive nature that he has.”
Bryant has founded Kobe, Inc, a company that will specialize in storytelling projects. Bryant also has investment stakes in various companies. That includes Body Armor, a the sports energy drink, Body Armor, as well as Players Tribune, a site that features articles from a players’ perspective.
Bryant has also said he will still remain physically active through weight training. But he has not entertained the idea of playing pickup basketball as Scott did at local gyms and in coaching stints with New Jersey (2000-04), New Orleans (2004-09) and Cleveland (2010-13).
“He’s such a competitor. I don’t know if he could go to rec centers and just play,” Scott said. “He’ll probably run into the same problem I did and even more so because of the level he’s on and being an icon. I found guys coming in the gym just wanting to play against you. So they can go back and say they blocked a shot or scored on you or something like that. They got mad at me one day when I said, ‘I can’t play with you guys because you don’t know how to play and you’ll end up getting somebody hurt.’ So I don’t know if he’s going to do that. But I do know he’ll find something that can quench that thirst.”
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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org