Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, an unquestionable warrior, and a model of where hard work and never-ending dedication to your craft will get you. He’s also a 17-year veteran who has played in more than 1200 regular season games and 200 playoff games. His ability to recover from injury and play through the pain is a thing of legend – but it’s time to be realistic.
When Bryant ruptured his Achilles at the end of last year, some people speculated that he would be back by opening night. That was nonsense, of course. He 35 years old and doesn’t boast magical recoverability powers. Surely enough, the healing process has been slow and without all that many updates on his progress.
On Tuesday night, as the Los Angeles Lakers were busy getting trampled by the Dallas Mavericks, Bryant was asked if he had a return date in mind.
"Not yet,” he admitted. “I'm pushing it, and this past week's felt pretty good.”
If the “it’s feeling pretty good” line combined with Bryant’s vagueness about his return made you cringe, it’s probably because it sounds so much like what Andrew Bynum used to say. He would always be making progress. Things would always be swell. But the on-court results, aside from that last season, never quite matched the optimism.
"We're all being pretty smart about the process and taking our time and making sure I come back ready to go,” Bryant added.
It’s good that Bryant is being cautious. For all intents and purposes, this is a lost season. Him rushing back despite not having healed yet can only hurt all involved, not help. But it’s important to understand the situation at hand and be realistic about it. Bryant isn’t coming back any time soon. And when he does, he may look like a very different player.
Fortunately, he seems prepared for that.
"I grew up, fortunately, understanding the fundamentals of the game and footwork and spacing, timing and things of that nature,” he said. “I feel like I can adjust my game to whatever it is I can do physically -- whether I have lift or I don't have lift or if I have the same explosiveness or I don't have the same explosiveness, I feel like I'll be able to adjust just fine."