Kobe Bryant has returned to Lakers’ practice, and that has caused a lot of buzz in Los Angeles. Although Kobe hasn’t been cleared for contact, speculation of him playing soon has grown exponentially. Mike D’Antoni has tried to issue caution though, and he doesn’t sound like his return is that soon, via my friend Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles:
“You’re dealing with, ‘Is he sore today? Is there a setback tomorrow? How [hard] can he go?’” D’Antoni said after shootaround in advance of the Lakers’ game against the Detroit Pistons. “That’s the first step and there’s a lot of steps to be taken. So, I just think we need to be cautious. We best just be cool and chill out a little bit.”
“We know that he’s capable,” D’Antoni said. “It’s just going to be a process to get him back. He’s a presence, no doubt, and we need that presence, especially at the end of games. But again, we got games to win and there’s going to be a bunch of them before he comes back, so we’re going to have to do our business.”
How many games constitutes “a bunch” is anybody’s guess. Bryant did not speak to reporters Sunday and declined to comment as he walked out of the Lakers’ training facility Saturday, other than to say he felt like “it was time” to test himself in a practice.
D’Antoni said Bryant would likely participate in “certain areas” of practice when the team gets back together after a scheduled off day Monday, but he would not venture a guess as to how many practices Bryant would need before he will be game ready.
“Nobody knows,” D’Antoni said. “We don’t know.”
D’Antoni is clearly trying to calm down the speculation, and don’t expect him to speak for Kobe. He has games to coach, and I’m sure he will be ready for Kobe when Kobe is ready. The Lakers have played admirably without Bryant, and whether he comes back to play in the flow of the offense is yet to be seen. As for how much he’s doing in practice, D’Antoni downplayed that as well:
The coach tried to manage expectations by downplaying Bryant’s activity in his first practice back, saying that there was limited contact, players’ ankles weren’t taped and they were only going at about “60 percent” instead of full speed.
“So, it wasn’t a practice per se,” D’Antoni said. “But, the first step.”
Even with Saturday’s training session consisting mainly of five-on-none drills, D’Antoni said that Bryant moved at a “pretty good pace” and was able to drive the lane and jump toward the basket “without anybody on him.”
Did he dunk?
“Two 360s,” D’Antoni said, sarcastically. “And he threw the ball off the side of the wall and dunked it one time.”
Mike’s a funny guy. Either way, Kobe’s return is soon, and that’s good for everybody.