After Kobe Bryant secretly returned to practice on Saturday, Tuesday was the first opportunity for the Los Angeles Lakers to introduce Bryant to a full practice and to the anxious media.
Tuesday was no disappointment.
The media was allowed to observe Bryant take part in half-court drills. Bryant battled in the post against Nick Young, he chased around Xavier Henry, he drained a jumper from the top of the key, and he cut down the lane for a reverse layup.
The 35-year-old showed no noticeable effects of an Achilles injury that held him out for over seven months. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni confirmed that Bryant played full court and looked good doing it. However, the Lakers are still preaching caution.
“This is one step, but he needs a few more steps,” D’Antoni said after practice. “(Bryant) looked real active--kind of surprising a little bit. But again, I want to urge caution because we’re going to take it easy.”
However, D’Antoni did express surprise at how sharp Bryant looked out of the gates.
“He hasn’t played since April, and he looked pretty good,” the coach continued.
D’Antoni said he was not expecting Bryant back on Friday. He admitted nothing was impossible, but the coach was firm that he did not anticipate the Black Mamba starting on Friday against the Golden State Warriors.
With cameras and microphones from every major local and national news outlet present, Bryant addressed the assembled media. He would not rule out returning this month but would not delve into how much practice was required before he would wear a game jersey.
“I’m able to hold defenders off pretty easily with my off hand, maintain position in the post,” Bryant spoke about how his game would evolve. “I’m much stronger now than I was (before the injury).”
“You can’t be stubborn about it,” Bryant talked about accepting new limitations resulting from the injury. “If there’s certain things that I used to do that I can’t do now, I won’t try to do them.”
With Bryant cleared and practicing, D’Antoni made no secret of Bryant’s input in the final decision on a return date.
“Do you know Kobe (Bryant)?” D’Antoni responded when asked if it will ultimately be Bryant’s decision on a return. That rhetorical question clearly answered that D'Antoni was waiting the final word just like everyone else.
At this point, Bryant is back practicing at full pace with the Lakers, he has no restrictions, and the final decision to return to the starting lineup is up to him.
He’s almost back.