Kobe Bryant to return Sunday
It will mark his first game since tearing his left Achilles nearly eight months ago.
Bryant announced the news by linking to a two-minute video on his Facebook page Friday afternoon. The video showed his No. 24 Lakers uniform floating in the middle of the screen and being battered by the elements -- wind, rain, snow, etc.
Eventually the jersey is torn down the middle of the chest, presumably representing the Achilles tear that Bryant suffered, before being repaired with a blinding beam of sunlight.
The video begins with the full-screen title "Seasons of Legend" and ends with "The Legend Continues ... December 8."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni was asked what his reaction would have been if he was told during training camp that Dec. 8 would end up being Bryant's return date.
"I'd probably be saying, 'What took him so long?'" D'Antoni said jokingly before the Lakers' 106-100 win against the Sacramento Kings on Friday night. "No, I think it's terrific. Obviously he feels good about it and we'll see going forward, but this is good news."
Xavier Henry, one player who benefited from Bryant's absence as he went from training camp invitee to regular contributor, said he didn't bother trying to figure out Bryant's return date.
"I didn't have no guess, but I'm glad it's Sunday," Henry said. "I'm glad he comes back and we'll see how everything goes."
D'Antoni said he had yet to watch Bryant's announcement video, and he wasn't the only one on the team in that boat. Nick Young watched it for the first time on a reporter's iPhone in the locker room before the game with Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill peering over his shoulder at the screen.
"To hear he's coming back, it's definitely a positive influence for everybody," said Meeks, who Bryant could replace at shooting guard in the starting lineup. "We want to win this game tonight and Sunday will be a tough game, but with him back, we will play with a lot of confidence."
D'Antoni was confident that the long layoff would not affect Bryant's impact on the game.
"He'll be a dominant player," D'Antoni said. "He can play any way. He can play below the rim, above the rim, beside the rim. I mean, the guy can play any way. He'll figure out how he'll be effective and then he'll come at you with everything he's got. That's been his M.O., and I think that's what he'll do."
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The coach was asked to reflect on the game in which Bryant went down, tearing his Achilles on April 12 against the Golden State Warriors.
"What do you think I'm thinking?" D'Antoni said. "I mean, 'Holy crap.' I just hated it. I hated it for him. I hated it for the Lakers. I thought we finally had it going pretty good. Stuff just [did not work out]. We got ourselves in a hole and he had to play unbelievably hard to get us back in the playoffs, he did it and then he goes down. It was a tough thing to take."
D'Antoni said he never doubted Bryant, 35, would return.
"Modern medicine and the way he is, yeah, I thought he'd come back," D'Antoni said.
Bryant said Thursday he would "probably" have a reduced amount of playing time when he returns. He averaged 38.6 minutes per game last season.
"Getting your sea legs, it takes some time to do that," Bryant said. "That's why we have preseason games and it builds to the regular season. It just takes a while, no matter how much running and conditioning you do, to get out there and play is different. So I'm sure I'll be limited in some capacity."
D'Antoni would not state an expected minute range for Bryant.
"I'll talk to [Lakers trainer] Gary [Vitti] about that and Gary will talk to Kobe and we'll try to figure it out," D'Antoni said. "A little bit of it will be he'll just have to go, 'I need a blow,' and we'll try to figure out the best way [to limit his minutes]. I don't think we know. We'll have a game plan, but he'll adjust to it as he feels what he feels his body can do."