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Kobe Bryant is beginning to work his way into the Los Angeles Lakers lineup, and with contract talk in the rear-view, Bryant's imminent return signifies that he is ready to come back.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Lakers allowed reporters to take a look at Kobe Bryant play 5-on-5 full court basketball. Beyond simply marveling at Bryant’s imminent return, one could not help but take a look at the lineups Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni was using to fit Bryant back into the team.
When the media entered, Bryant was playing alongside Steve Blake, and Wesley Johnson, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol were in the front court. Jordan Hill would eventually step in for Shawne Williams, as the Lakers were trying a few different looks.
Regardless of the changes to the first unit, Jodie Meeks stayed on the floor with the second unit. From the looks of things, Bryant’s return means Meeks will fall to the second unit. For the majority of the scrimmage, the two shooting guards were guarding each other, and the trash talk was flowing—mainly out of Bryant’s mouth.
For the first unit, Bryant was back to talking in between whistles and getting under teammates’ skins. For the second unit, Nick Young had a loud voice that argued calls and played with passion. It may be practice, but no one wanted to lose the scrimmages.
Williams’ inclusion in the first unit provided an interesting athletic look to the team. For one stretch, Hill came in for Gasol, and a unit of Hill, Williams, Johnson, Bryant and Blake ran up and down. The substitutions were likely based on keeping guys fresh, but the Lakers’ starting five was beginning to take shape.
With Blake, Bryant, and Johnson seemingly cemented, Gasol and Hill should hold their spots. If D’Antoni decides to start a stretch-four, Williams is that guy. Even if the competitive fire was on display, Tuesday was not a game. In line with that, Bryant did not attempt a single shot while the media was present.
“Get that on tape,” D’Antoni joked about Bryant not shooting. “That won’t happen a lot.”
D’Antoni was impressed with Bryant progress. He said the 35-year-old did “everything” at practice and looked good. The coach will likely try different lineups and combinations in practices on Wednesday and Thursday, but the initial chemistry seemed to satisfy D’Antoni.
Regardless of who is playing alongside him when he returns, the Black Mamba is nearing his return.