So the day has finally come as it is just matter of hours before Kobe Bryant will make his long awaited return to the court.
Bryant is just eight months removed from when he initially tore his left Achilles tendon and where questions quickly began to arise about if he would ever play again or if he did, would he be the same player?
Well those questions are about to be answered shortly.
Since having surgery the day after the injury occurred, Bryant’s rehabilitation has been well documented with things such as photos of his Achilles tendon during surgery, video him running on the Anti-gravity treadmill, and also video of him jumping off a 40-foot high diving board into a pool.
What things such as this show is the determination to come back from such a devastating injury that only Dominique Wilkins has come back to perform at the same high level he was playing at prior to the injury.
Bryant has been working diligently to get where he is at, which is returning a month faster than the typical nine months to a year time frame. There is no questioning his toughness and will to continue to play at high level that he has played at throughout his career.
But with that said, this is a different animal as it is a major injury that has forced many players before him to retire or return to court as never the same player prior to the injury. But, keep in mind this is also a different player who has the will and determination to defy the odds and play at the same or near the same as he was before to the injury.
So as for the immediate expectations for the 35-year-old, Lakers and NBA fans need to realize that he will likely be rusty and may not be able to perform at the high level he is accustomed to right away as he is only eight months removed from the surgery. Also put into account that Bryant did not have a preseason to get into “game shape.”
So what that ultimately means is that first couple of weeks Bryant may experience nights early on where he struggles to shoot with consistency as he is still trying to get his legs under him while he taking a shot.
The 15-time All-Star after Thursday’s practice stated this very adjustment that he still has to make in his game before he can more effective on the floor.
“You have your legs underneath you,” Bryant said. “There’s a conditioning aspect of it, which I feel 100 percent with proper stamina, running all day and running at a high speed. Basketball speed, you’re talking about plyometrics and changing directions and you have to gather yourself to shoot the ball. That’s getting your sea legs.”
Those are things that training camp and preseason help accomplish and Bryant was unable experience either one as he was recovering from his injury. Although Bryant will struggle early on he will still be an effective player on the floor although he may not be at performing at his usual high level.
Another factor to his limited effectiveness on the Floor as head coach Mike D’Antoni has stated that Bryant early on in his return will be under a minutes per game restriction.
“I don’t think it’s a magical number,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after practice Saturday when asked about a minute range for Bryant. “He’s totally well and ready to go. I think he’ll be limited by his wind and ability to be able to take the pounding. So, I would be surprised if more than in the twenties. It shouldn’t be any more than that.”
D’Antoni also added that Bryant may not have the same lift from his legs as it will take some time for him to regain that explosiveness.
“He’s not going to be above the rim for a while, which is fine,” D’Antoni said. “There were some great players that played below the rim, and he’ll have to do that for a little bit. He’ll control the game, and his presence will be exemplary.”
In any case it is Bryant, who has a unique ability to perform at a high level while dealing with difficult health situations and this may be one of them.
“I think there will be some ups and downs,” D’Antoni said. “Now, it’s Kobe Bryant, so I don’t know that. Anybody normal would have ups and downs. You might play well the first couple games then fall off a little bit or start off kind of slow and build your way up. So, it will be an adjustment period for him and also for us.”
Ultimately, Los Angeles’ fans need to temper their expectations early on as Bryant is getting himself back into better game shape and is getting used to playing in an actual game. It will take some time, but the 18-year veteran will be able to perform at a high level, possibly not the one Lakers and NBA fans are used to seeing. Nonetheless, he will still be the same hard working, dedicated, and strong-willed player that has graced a Lakers’ uniform for nearly two decades.
Photo Credit: Bridget Samuels / Wikimedia Commons