In an NBA season that has began in abnormal manner, 29 medical staffs across the league should now be preparing to save their players from venomous snake punctures. The Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant, is back practicing for the Los Angeles Lakers just seven months after tearing arguably the most important tendon in an athlete’s body; the Achilles.
The 2013-14 campaign has kicked off with a very interesting twist. The teams that were projected to “circle the drain” and tank away the season to snatch a top 2014 draft pick have been shocking the world and even their own general managers. The Phoenix Suns were sizzling atop the Western Conference to begin the year and the Philadelphia 76ers upset three of the league’s powerhouses in the Miami Heat, Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls.
The Los Angeles Lakers are looking to complete their own task of proving analysts wrong.
Without their superstar, the Lakers have played inconsistent and mediocre basketball, earning a 5-7 record through the first 12 games and hovering around the worst defenses in the league by surrendering 103.8 points per game. To put this bizarre Los Angeles experience in perspective, the Lakers’ leading scorer has been the fourth-year shooting guard Jodie Meeks, who is averaging 13.7 points per game. Granted, Meeks is shooting the lights out in this Mike D’Antoni offense by shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 49.2 percent from 3-point territory.
The week prior to Bryant returning to team practice, it was reported by TNT’s Craig Sager that he told the team to just “stay competitive” until his return to game action and they would be fine the rest of the way. It would turn into an all-out debate if we were to measure the Lakers’ success in fulfilling Bryant’s request, considering many people have different views about this team and what they have demonstrated. As a unit, the Lakers have appeared to come together and play team basketball with veterans Steve Blake and Pau Gasol stepping into leadership roles on the court. Blake has propelled the team to wins behind his efficient and intelligent point guard play. Coach D’Antoni is being pressured into playing the 33-year-old Blake 31.9 minutes per night (highest since his 2008-09 season) due to Steve Nash‘s ongoing nerve irritation in his back.
In reality, the Lakers’ performance through 12 games is probably exactly what the five-time NBA champion wanted to see. Predicated on hard work and outside shooting, Los Angeles has knocked off a share of teams that were supposed to be significantly better. Taking the first battle of Hollywood with the Clippers, spoiling Dwight Howard‘s first night playing against the team he abandoned and dismantling a superior Detroit Pistons frontcourt, the Lakers have already exceeded expectations without their star.
With Bryant back in the lineup, D’Antoni automatically receives an ultimate scoring upgrade, and one that will have the ball in his hands even more than he has in the last few seasons. That’s quite frightening.
On Tuesday afternoon, Bryant made the next step in the return process by participating in his first full-contact scrimmage as the Lakers practiced in preparation for the Golden State Warriors on Friday evening. Tuesday’s scrimmage was indeed full-court, although media members were only authorized to watch the team in halfcourt sets towards the end of practice.
To nobody’s surprise, a large crowd surrounded Bryant after practice, hoping to get some detailed information out of the 15-time All-Star.
Bryant didn’t disappoint, giving the media updates on how he felt throughout the day:
“My legs didn’t feel tired at all, I just went out there and played,” Bryant told media after practice. “There are still areas where it (Achilles) needs to get stronger in terms of the jumping, being able to plant and move.”
In terms of how Bryant was able to utilize his wide array of offensive moves early on, fans shouldn’t expect the same Kobe Bryant right when he returns. Being in the league 18 seasons, there is no doubting he will be back to old form after a few games are under his belt because veterans learn to adjust to certain conditions. He put on display the vintage Mamba crossover and pull-up jumper over teammate Xavier Henry, along with a few quick and open cuts to the basket.
When asked of a potential return date after missing the first 12 games of the season, Bryant still prevented from setting a time-table, however, gave the impression that he could be back in game time action before the end of November.
Asked if he could see himself playing by the end of this month, Bryant quickly responded with “Yeah, Yeah I can.”
Hold your horses, there’s a couple reasons why people shouldn’t get too excited about that statement just yet.
The Lakers have five games remaining in the month of November, one of which is very doubtful for Bryant to return. Friday, Nov. 22nd features the Golden State Warriors coming to Staples Center. D’Antoni told the media on Tuesday that it would be quite a shock if Bryant felt ready by then, seeing as that would only give him 3-4 days of full-contact practice coming off a career-threatening injury.
Los Angeles’ last four games of November:
- Sunday, Nov. 24th vs. Sacramento Kings
- Tuesday, Nov. 26th at Washington Wizards
- Wednesday, Nov. 27th at Brooklyn Nets*
- Friday, Nov. 29th at Detroit Pistons
*denotes the debut of the Lakers’ Hollywood Nights jersey colorway
There is a bit of a dilemma that arises the more I dissect the idea of Bryant returning before the month is over. The last three games of November are on the road for the Lakers, which doesn’t necessarily seem like a perfect opportunity for him to reunite with the team. It may sound purely silly, but consider it for a moment. Bryant tore his Achilles tendon in front of the Los Angeles crowd, a group comprised of fans that have been dedicated and devoted to him for his entire career. Whether it is something he would come out and admit to the public or not, deep down it’s something that actually matters. Returning at Staples Center in front of a standing ovation is just the proper setting for this anticipated event.
Adding to the equation, Mike D’Antoni chimed in on how Bryant has looked in practice the first two days:
“He’s a little rusty,” D’Antoni mentioned at the Lakers’ annual “All-Access” event. “I thought the first day looked better than the second day, but that’s normal. He’ll have a little dip. But if he’s not too sore and if he keeps playing, (possible return could be) a couple more weeks, three weeks.”
D’Antoni implying that there would still be a handful of games until Bryant returns shouldn’t be one bit discouraging. Give him the time he needs and value patience, because a marvelous career of such is not something that every draft class produces. It’s not likely that we see another career mirror Bryant’s, which makes it monumental that this Achilles recovery is completed in the proper fashion, with the one crucial word: Caution.
It’s already apparent from his movement in practice that Bryant’s first step when attacking a defender off the dribble is nearly as explosive as it was back in April, when the “Playoff Guarantee” consumed his mentality. 1.5 to 2 more weeks of practice activities will only help his chances of stepping back into the “killer” role that Lakers fans think of when they hear the name Kobe Bryant.
Kobe Bryant is currently 4th on the All-Time NBA Scoring List, standing behind only Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Bryant needs 676 points to move past Jordan into 3rd on the list, something we can definitely expect sometime this winter.
In a season that includes the Lakers’ championship chances the lowest they have been since obtaining Pau Gasol, you would have to think the personal milestone is going to mean a lot for Bryant personally and professionally.
Sunday, Dec. 1st vs. Portland Trail Blazers (Staples Center, Los Angeles) or Earlier
No, he is not turning into Derrick Rose and sitting out the entire year. Bryant actually has the mental toughness.
**Anthony Young is not a doctor issuing an official time-table, but merely a life-long supporter of Kobe Bryant that is estimating his return.
Tags: Chris Kaman Golden State Warriors Jordan Farmar Jordan Hill Kobe Achilles Kobe Bryant Kobe Lakers Kobe Return La Lakers Lakers Mike D'Antoni NBA Nick Young Pau Gasol Shawne Williams Steve Blake Steve Nash Wesley Johnson Western Conference Xavier Henry