Kobe: 'Weeks' away from return
WASHINGTON -- Kobe Bryant said he is still "probably weeks" away from making his return to game action after being sidelined for more than seven months, but feels grateful to the Los Angeles Lakers for signing him to a contract extension while he is still recovering from his Achilles injury.
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"It makes me want to run through a wall for them," Bryant said in his first public comments since signing a two-year, $48.5 million deal with the Lakers on Monday. "It kind of just adds more fuel to the fire of being able to come out and kind of prove to everybody that [the Lakers] are right and everybody else is wrong."
Bryant said the salary, which will keep him as the league's highest paid player after he collects his $30.5 million this season, was not something he fought for.
"We had no conversation whatsoever," Bryant said when asked about the Lakers' salary cap moving forward. "The only number that I saw was the one that I agreed to."
Bryant's $23.5 million salary will account for more than one third of the expected $62.9 million salary cap for next season. He is set to make $25 million in 2015-16, which will be his 20th with the Lakers, eclipsing John Stockton's NBA record of playing all 19 seasons of his career with one team in the Utah Jazz.
"I've been fortunate," Bryant said. "I've been very, very lucky. Very blessed. It's very hard in terms of cap restrictions and things of that nature for a group of players to stay together for a long period of time, or one player to stay with one team for a long period of time. You just don't see it that often. So I feel very, very blessed and very fortunate to be a Laker for life."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said Tuesday that he does not "foresee" Bryant playing during the team's three-game road trip through Washington, Brooklyn and Detroit and Bryant backed that up, adding that he would still like more practice time with the team when it returns to L.A. before circling a definitive comeback date.
"I need some more practices to kind of be able to measure it and test it and some of the limitations that I had in the first couple of practices, kind of come back and see if they're still there, if they're not," Bryant said.
The Lakers have three practices scheduled for the week of Dec. 1 in between their home game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday to start the week and their road game against the Sacramento Kings that Friday.
"You kind of start looking at those dates a little bit, but I think those three (practice) days when we get back are going to be huge to kind of see what I can do, what I can't do, day after day," Bryant said.
Bryant doesn't just want to practice and play, of course. He wants a chance to contend for a championship. Bryant still believes the Lakers will have a chance to capture another title -- his sixth -- before he retires after what he said will "probably" be his last season in 2015-16.
"We have the opportunity to do that," Bryant said when asked if the Lakers could contend with a core of him, a re-signed Pau Gasol and another max-level free agent. "I don't even know legally what I'm allowed to say and not say in terms of impending free agents and things like that, so I'll kind of stay away from that, but we have the ability to do something special."
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After playing an average of 45.7 minutes in the seven games leading up to his Achilles tear last April, Bryant said he is open to a playing time restriction when he does return to the lineup.
"I'm comfortable with that, for sure," Bryant said. "The goal is to win a championship and put ourselves in position to win a championship. I feel like we have some really good pieces, guys who are really competitive and athletic and have the energy where they can carry a game and I think that they've been showing that -- particularly the last three games -- so if I can come back and keep my minutes to a minimum, that would be perfect."
Perhaps even more surprising than agreeing to limited minutes, the ultra-competitive Bryant -- who again made reference to his ESPN.com NBA player ranking of No. 25 for the 2013-14 season being way off -- conceded that his game could look different upon return. Think more Magic Johnson than Michael Jordan.
"I have different options," Bryant said. "There's different ways I can go. Obviously the easier of the two would be I could have the same type of explosiveness that I had last year. Then it makes my game very easy. But, if it's not there, then I'm ready to adapt and I'm ready to change that and slow the tempo down, change up the rhythm a little bit. Go to more of a 'bump' game. So, I'm willing and ready to adapt to whatever my body is telling me.
"There's some players throughout the course of NBA history that have done just fine without that kind of athleticism, from Magic to (Larry) Bird to Oscar Robertson, who used his size a great deal and although he was fast and strong, he really, his game was that of using his back and his force. Andre Miller is a great guy, Gary Payton, Paul Pierce. These are guys that have an unpredictable rhythm to their game, more so than using speed."
Bryant said he is aware of some of the backlash he is receiving from fans who feel like he accepted too much money on his deal, thus hampering the Lakers' ability to build around him through free agency.
"They're fans and they have good intentions and kind of a good spirit about it, but I don't think they understand the cap or what strategically they're trying to do better than the Lakers do," Bryant said. "So, I think we'll be alright."
He also said he didn't have any sort of ultimatum for the deal to go through before his return.
"The amount of love and respect that I have for the Buss family and the Lakers organization trumps anything else that I wanted," Bryant said. "I just wanted to come out and play. If they wanted to wait and see how I played, that's fine."
Bryant, who conceded that the figure he will receive accounts for "work previously done," expressed how much he believes in the value of deal for both sides nonetheless by using his trademark sarcasm.
"I think it's lucky for me and for the Lakers organization that this smart decision that they've made business-wise can't be revoked by the NBA," Bryant said, referring to the failed trade that nearly brought Chris Paul to the Lakers several seasons ago.