As usual when it comes to Kobe Bryant and injuries, he was a man of few, barely audible, highly impatient words. But as Dave McMenamin reports, he was willing to utter the ones that mattered most.
"I should be fine," said Kobe when asked about his availability for the Christmas Day season opener against the Bulls.
Of course, "fine" isn't necessarily quite sunshine and lollipops. Kobe described his wrist as "swollen and painful," and I'm guessing that won't change by the time Sunday rolls around. The Mamba has a famously absurd tolerance for pain, but I have a hard time believing lacing 'em up on Sunday won't entail enduring an exceptional amount of discomfort.
There's also the question of the effects the injury will have on Bryant as a player. After all, right-handed players tend to use their right wrists a decent amount of time over the course of a basketball game. Plus, that wrist is connected to a hand with some jacked up fingers. Kobe's handle occasionally suffers due to those digits. With the wrist now a factor, it's fair to wonder how Bryant's shot, or ability to create for himself or others could suffer. Even as one of the best athletes I've ever seen playing through injuries, there are limits, especially as you get older.
Predictably, Bryant downplayed the issue.
"If you can play through the pain and you can catch a ball, pass a ball, you should be fine," he said.
For those concerned playing through the injury will stymie the healing process, that's a valid fear. Why? Because Kobe said so himself. However, this is just being viewed as a fact of life, rather than a sticking point to consider.
"It's not really going to heal," Bryant conceded. "I mean, it's gone. The ligament is gone. So there's nothing I can do about it. But I've dealt with so many hand injuries. It should be all right."
The ligament is "gone?" Wowza, that's dark. I'm not even disagreeing with him. I've just never heard an injury framed in such "dust in the wind" terms. Kobe always claims he's not very sentimental. Clearly, he's not kidding.
Mike Brown, who sounded very much like a coach expecting his star player Sunday, shared a couple of amusing stories when asked to talk about Kobe's toughness. The first one requires a strong stomach.
"We were talking earlier about a story today with myself, and Kobe and [Lakers assistant coach John] Kuester," said Brown. "A couple of years ago, we played the Lakers. And it was in front of our bench, I'm glad I didn't see it, because I might have passed out, but Kobe popped one of his fingers out of place. As you can see, I'm queasy thinking about it. Kuester was like, 'Man! We might have a chance!' And all Kobe did was, boop, pull it out, put it back in and he continued playing.
"You know, you talk about a guy with a high tolerance of pain, it's Kobe. So nothing would surprise me at this point, in terms of him playing or not playing."
Later, when asked about the injury potentially impeding Kobe, he recalled the first time he saw Kobe play with that honkin' big finger splint of old.
"It's hard to doubt him. I remember when he had that finger and he was playing with that splint on his finger, because I didn't really know him, I didn't think he'd be able to shoot the ball. I was like, 'I hope he keeps that bulky thing on.' I still don't know how he shoots the ball, because it's on his shooting hand. So for me to sit here and say it's going to hinder him and slow him down, I'd be lying to you. I don't know if it will or won't. If I had to bet, I would bet that it wouldn't. I've tried to bet against a couple of times during practice against Kobe and it didn't work out well."
And by the way, objects in this video actually are as close as they appear. You'll see what I mean.
Who'll start at small forward on Sunday remains a race up in the air between Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks. I asked Brown if he's making the decision based primarily on either player as an individual, or how he blends specifically with Kobe, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. As it turns out, it's a little from column A, a little from column B.
"Both, because both guys are capable of doing a lot of different things," explained Brown. "And the one thing that I'm looking for from that spot with the particular guys that are out there is, I need that guy to be able to defend. I need that guy to be able to rebound. I need that guy to be able to run the floor every possession. I need him to make no mistakes if at all possible. And then when he's open, step in and knock that shot down, knowing that he may get the ball all the time.
"I'm contradicting myself because you never want to put a guy in a box or constrict a guy, but I feel like I know what I need for that specific role in order for that person or that position to fit with the other four guys on the floor. And so that guy that does that the best in my opinion will get the opportunity, because I can't afford to have that guy make a ton of mistakes, because if he does, then it's taking the ball out of guys' hands that have made plays for this organization for a lot of years and have won championships for this organization. So they know how to do it the right way."
Ebanks badly outplayed Barnes (who kinda went off the rails) Wednesday night, and Brown generally complimented the performance. However, given his impossibly detail-oriented nature, the coach also wanted to scrutinize some tape to see if he missed any negatives. Having seen said movies, Brown remained pleased.
"I thought Devin was solid," Brown said. "I thought he made few mistakes. I thought he was very good on the weakside defensively. I thought he shot the ball well. I thought he shot the ball within the offense and within rhythm. He was a nice presence defensively, I thought, because he didn't make too many mistakes."