Los Angeles – The wait is finally over Kobe Bryant as he made his return to the court just eight months removed from tearing his left Achilles tendon, which included missing a total of 27 games that includes both the preseason and regular season.
But before Bryant took the court in Sunday’s game against the Toronto Raptors, , he was introduced with various introductions that hyped the crowd that included a new Los Angeles Lakers introduction video and another video montage of him with the Star Wars Darth Vader music playing in the background.
The Game was hyped and the crowd was anxious and excited to see N0. 24 return the court, but what Bryant’s performance showed was his rustiness from not playing in a game since last April.
But with that said, he showed flashes of brilliance such as his laser pass from the left baseline past two defenders to Robert Sacre for an easy layup, and on his first field goal made in the game on a shot attempt created by two pump fakes and was taken left-handed.
He also display moments of where he is still adjusting to playing on the court, as evident by his airball of a six-foot right-handed hook shot on his first shot attempt of the game and by his eight turnovers on Sunday.
What it demonstrated that it is going to be a bit of an adjustment period for Bryant, and the 15-time All-star knows that it is going to take some time to get back to high level of performance that he has become accustomed to playing at over the years.
“Honestly it’s more me adjusting, I just got to get used to timing and speed of the game, and where the lanes are how quickly they close down,” Bryant said. “(I just got to) get them the ball in the right spot. It was a couple of times, (actually) a bunch of times, where we were just out of sync. I am throwing the ball to a certain spot, but they’re shaking up or staying spaced. It’s just getting used to that rhythm. The adjustment for me really is to deliver the ball in the areas that they can be effective in the right spots.”
He did however look out of sync on Sunday, but keep in mind Bryant has never experienced an injury to this magnitude in his career and it’s new territory to him.
“It was weird. it was really weird,” Bryant said. “I think the last time I had eight months off I was still in womb. It felt good to get out there. [Physically] I feel fine actually. Playing those minutes I think was a lot less of a toll on my body, so I feel fine. Conditioning, I really worked on my conditioning, I feel like I can run all day long. It’s a matter of getting those game legs back. The shot feels weird. running and cutting and being able to explode feels weird because you kind of have to get those game legs back.”
What Sunday’s game showed was that Bryant is still figuring out what adjustments he will have to make to his game and what he can or cannot do physically. The 15-time All-Star on Sunday did state that he is still able to get where he wanted to floor and it is just a matter of him getting his body right.
“I feel like I could get to the spots I wanted,” Bryant said. “I was doing therapy and I was watching some of the game film and I was pleased at how I was moving a little bit. It’s always one thing where you gauge how you’re feeling while you’re doing it and then you look at it and you see that you’re moving a lot better than you thought you were.”
“So it’s just a matter of trusting certain things and also experimenting too. You have to be able to throw yourself out there and take off the leg a little bit and measure it and you can’t just shy away from it and putt all the stress on the healthy because then you’ll wear that one out too.”
It will be some time for Bryant to before he gets “game legs” back, because of the fact he was not able to participate in training camp, preseason, and a quarter of the regular season. There is also the age factor to the his recovery as he is 35 years old, and that is going to make it a longer period of time before he plays like or near the player he was before.
But in the meantime, the 18-year veteran is up to the challenge and it is looking forward to making the necessary adjustments in his game.
“I don’t feel normal at all, Bryant said. “I couldn’t wait to start watching the film and start criticizing every little thing and I’ll go home tonight and watch it over again, but that’s the exciting part. The exciting part is you got a challenge and you got some improvements to make and you sit and you watch them, and you get ready for the next game and carry it from there.”
As for his teammates such as Jodie Meeks, they don’t believe it will take long for Bryant to adjust.
“It was great. Maybe he’s a little rusty, but it’s been eight months since he last played,” Meeks said. “But it wont take him long to get back, and I don’t think it’s going to get in the way.”
Xavier Henry echoed the same sentiments about Bryant and feels that the team will figure out soon how to play with the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
“We have a lot of things that are different,” Henry said. “We have point guards that are out, so I have to play backup point guard, we have Kobe coming back, so everything shifts. Everybody just has to find their way, and we’ll figure it out in due time. In practice, games….before long we’ll know what we’re doing for sure.”
Ultimately, it is going to be a rough transition for Bryant or for any player that suffers this type of injury, but the team knows that they must remain patient as he is working his way back in hopes that he recapture the form that he had prior to the injury.
“He is on the floor and he’ll work through his issues,” Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They are baby steps. He is coming back from a tough surgery and is coming off (missing the last) eight months. Everything [Bryant] has done in the past you have to think he is human. We have to understand that it’s going to happen. The other players around (have to understand) the same that it is going to take awhile and it’s going to be a little painful at first. The biggest thing is the other players have to take care of him and we didn’t do that (Sunday) night.”
Photo Credit: Lakers.com