- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant marched off the practice court on his repaired Achilles tendon straight to the refuge of the training room after shootaround Sunday without saying a word to reporters, his final preparations behind him before making his return to game action for the first time in nearly eight months.
The press weren't the only people Bryant did not talk to.
"He was a little quiet today," said Pau Gasol. "But he's been, I think, eager to be out there, to get back on the floor and do what he does. And be who he is."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni also described Bryant's mood.
"I think he’s serious," D'Antoni said. "I think he’s ready to roll. I think everybody knows what’s at stake and we’re anxious to see what we can do."
Bryant will have to show what he can do in limited playing time. D'Antoni said he has a "loose plan" to keep Bryant's minutes somewhere in the 20-29 range.
"As the game goes on, (Lakers trainer) Gary (Vitti) and I will be talking the whole time," D'Antoni said. "Doctors are right there at the bench and they’ll be talking and then Kobe will be the ultimate decider on how he feels."
Sunday marks 240 days since Bryant's last game played, a couple days short of eight full months. The original timeline the Lakers provided following Bryant's Achilles surgery in April put the shooting guard out for a minimum of 6-9 months.
"You knew he was going to beat the odds or beat the timetable," D'Antoni said. "His whole goal was to do that. He did that and now I’m sure he’ll beat (the expectations of) how good he can be coming back and that’s what makes him special."
Gasol said he was always confident Bryant would make it back to the court.
"We knew he was going to do that, for sure," Gasol said. "That's his personality, his mindset, his character. He worked extremely hard -- I know that for a fact -- to be here today and I hope that he can just continue to progress into getting healthier, stronger, sharper out there. I know that's going to happen just because of how hard he works and the people that have helped him also along the way. I have plenty of trust that he'll be fine and it's remarkable what he's been able to do recovering so quickly. Now, we have to see the result obviously."
Both D'Antoni and Gasol agree that the biggest challenge the 10-9 Lakers face with Bryant coming back is not forgetting how well they played without him to get to this point.
"The biggest concern is that we just watch him play and they don’t bring their egos into the game and do what they’ve been doing," D'Antoni said. "All of our guys, we got to take a step forward. We can’t take a step backwards and hopefully that’s the case."
Gasol said the Lakers had to remember to "not stand around and watch him play," adding, "just help him out also, as much as we can, and continue to play at the pace that we’ve been playing with."
Most of the talk from Bryant, coaches and players in the weeks leading up to Sunday's game against the Toronto Raptors was about how the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history was embracing his role as a facilitator, but his footwear might have been a clue that he isn't letting go of his gunner status just yet. Bryant had on the Nike Zoom Kobe 1 Retro "Prelude," the same sneaker model he wore when he scored 81 points against Toronto on a Sunday game in L.A. back in 2006.
"It's going to be hard to hold him back," Gasol said of Bryant's progress. "He's going to have so much fun with it, we're all going to enjoy the process as well."
While there was hardly a peep out of Bryant at shootaround, Staples Center promises to be rocking Sunday evening with fans letting Bryant hear their appreciation for his return.
"To see him come back I think is inspiring and great for our fans," said Steve Nash. "They’ve been dying for him to come back and to see him come back now is going to be an exciting time for all Lakers fans."