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Friday, January 7, 2011
Phil Jackson on Kobe Bryant's knee

By Brian Kamenetzky

Today's column from the New York Post's Peter Vescey made waves for two reasons, one legitimate, one not so much. The first piece of news revolved around Kobe Bryant's practice schedule, and the idea he'd not been participating until motivated by the team's poor showing against the Heat on Christmas Day.

This wasn't a secret. In an effort to best preserve his body -- most recently his bum right knee plaguing him throughout last season -- Kobe hasn't practiced regularly for a long time, something regularly talked and written about in the local media (and certainly in this space), but not mentioned daily because it had become the norm.

This, however, was news (to me, at least, and a lot of other people from what I gather), and then some. How bad is the knee, Kobe?

"I have very little cartilage under my right knee cap," Kobe told Vescey.  "It’s almost bone on bone.”

Yikes. When it comes to sports injuries, there aren't many three-word combinations scarier than "bone on bone." Before Friday's game against the Hornets, Phil Jackson was asked about Kobe's knee, and how they've handled it as a team. Obviously the Lakers were aware of his physical condition, even if the rest of us weren't. (Listen to the audio here.)

How big a concern is Kobe's knee?
“He manages it very well. That’s important, that he’s got the ability to do that. It’s been an issue since last year. We monitored it all the way through the playoffs. Surprisingly, we came out on top and he was able to make adjustments. The operation in the summer helped. He’s come back in a way that I think is most appropriate. Limited practice time, and now that he’s stronger and he can adjust to a lot of what he has to deal with, and that helps the team out , too, have him on the floor with him."

When you say he doesn't practice, you mean no scrimmaging. What does he do?
"Defensive dead drills, and what we call a walk through [in] the pregame practice. A lot of times, when the team is just doing conditioning drills, which are redundant for him to have to do when he’s on the court, maybe shooting or whatever, doing stuff on the court that’s getting his skills. So it’s not like he’s not there.”

Do the other players have a problem with it?

“We talk about it as a team. I’m sure the adjustment to having Kobe on the floor with them is a major adjustment. I think having him out there at practice makes it better for our team, but once they play with him a few games again then they adjust to the fact that he’s a guy he’s going to break off some of the offense, he’s going to chase the ball once in a while, he’s going to shortchange some of the things we do to get the ball [moving], and that itself breaks the rhythm a little bit. Players adjust to it, and they’re fine."

On managing the process:
“When I sat down with him two years ago -- three years now -- before the season, I said the issue about getting older is about containing your leg strength and your ability to play due to that. You’re only going to have issues, and some practices are going to have to be monitored and you and I have to reach a point of agreement on this. And I’m going to give you the liberty to pick and choose how you want to practice so that we can do this the right way. So this has been going on for a while.”

Will  he continue to practice as he has post Christmas?
“No, I don’t think it will continue. We had two games back to back -- I’m not going to practice Fish, I’m not going to practice Kobe. Those are just things you don’t do in this league right now at their age. They’ve got 14 years experience, and there’s nothing to gain in that. But come practice day when we have a day off, or we have one game or something, they’ll be out there.”