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Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant returned to practice Saturday morning for the first time since tearing his Achilles tendon nearly seven months ago.
Bryant declined to comment as he walked out of the Lakers' training facility in El Segundo, Calif., other than to say he felt like "it was time" to test himself in a practice. The former league MVP also said he would evaluate how he felt on Sunday.
Sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPNLosAngeles.com that while Saturday's return to practice was encouraging, there's still a belief that Bryant has got "a ways to go" before he starts targeting a return date.
"He was out there making shots, basically being himself, just at a slower pace," Lakers guard Xavier Henry said. "He'll be all right sooner or later. He's of course not 100 percent, but to see him out there -- it helps."
Bryant had been ramping up his conditioning and activity the last couple of weeks, but Saturday marked the first time he participated in on-court drills with teammates.
|One day after appearing at Staples Center, above, to present a check on behalf of the Lakers to the typhoon relief fund in the Philippines, Kobe Bryant was at practice with teammates for the first time since tearing his Achilles.|
Although the practice was short and limited to 5-on-0 half-court drills and shooting, Bryant's presence provided an immediate jolt for the Lakers, who fell to 4-7 this season with Friday's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
"He looked really good. He looked like Kobe," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. "It was the first time he was actually out there, and I was very happy to see him. I'm looking forward to seeing him do more out there.
"It was all half-court things, it was all very contained. But I think it was a great step forward. I hope that he reacts well to it and continues to build on it."
The 35-year-old Bryant, who tore his Achilles on April 12, indicated Friday that he is ahead of schedule in his recovery from the injury, which normally carries a recovery timetable of nine to 12 months.
"I feel like I'm ahead of schedule," Bryant told former teammate Rick Fox in an interview for NBA TV. "If there was a playoff game tonight, I'd play. I'd play. I don't know how effective I'd be, but I would play.
"The fadeaway still works, the ballhandling, being able to post. Those are things that I can do right now. But it's not the playoffs, thank god."
Bryant had surgery less than 24 hours after he injured his Achilles, which allowed him to start the recovery process well before most people with the injury do. He has been ahead of schedule ever since.
With Steve Nash out a minimum of two weeks with a nerve root inflammation and Gasol still working himself back into shape, the Lakers need Bryant as soon as possible.
"We know he's working hard and trying to get back from this," Henry said. "He can still teach us things when he's not 100 percent. He's somebody all of us look up to and want to be like and wanna play better to help him as he helps us."
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin was used in this report.