Eight months after fully rupturing his Achilles tendon, Kobe Bryant returned to the same floor where the most serious injury of his athletic career occurred. On Sunday night, Bryant was playing at Staples Center with “Lakers” on his chest and no. 24 on his back.
Unfortunately, he was not playing like the Black Mamba. Sunday’s Bryant only attempted nine shots, scored nine points, and committed eight turnovers. It was not all bad, as Bryant still pulled down eight rebounds, dished four assists and even managed a couple steals. However, few would argue against Bryant not being up to the high standards expected of the 18-year professional.
“Not to turn the ball over, and I failed miserably at that,” Bryant said when asked what his expectations were coming into the game. “This is a complete failure to me.”
Despite his harsh self-criticism, Bryant sounded and appeared optimistic that he had returned and had taken another step forward. He openly admitted that he had adjustments to make physically and mentally. Unfortunately, those adjustments may cost the Lakers a few more games.
“I don’t feel normal at all,” Bryant said about his comfort level on Sunday. “The exciting part is you got a challenge. You got some improvements to make.”
Bryant said he felt like he could still turn the corner and still had explosiveness. However, he argued that he made terrible reads against the opposing defense, and he was looking forward to breaking down film and improving.
“He’s on the floor,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni responded when asked what was encouraging about Bryant's return. “It’s just going to take a while. It’s going to be a little painful at first.”
Bryant’s return stole the show, but the Lakers did lose a game 106-94 to a Toronto Raptors team that was without its best player due to a trade in the works. Even with Bryant back, the Lakers’ story was the same: the starters underperformed and the bench kept them in it. This night, however, the difference was more pronounced than most.
Even with Bryant back, no starter scored in double figures. On the flip side, every Lakers reserve that played on Sunday scored in double figures. The Lakers’ bench out-scored the starters 71 to 23. Pau Gasol, in particular, struggled. After the game, Gasol admitted his sprained ankle was bothering him, but he refused to sit out or make excuses for the poor performance.
For a Lakers team that was clicking on chemsitry, Bryant’s return halted momentum and with a home loss.
On Monday morning, Bryant and the Lakers wake up with a 10-10 record on the season with one practice before the Phoenix Suns come to town. He may have made his return, but Bryant is a long way from being back.