- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant said he was "pleased" with the way his body responded Sunday, playing in his first NBA game in nearly eight months since tearing the Achilles tendon in his left leg, but the warm and fuzzy feelings ended there.
"I'm just insanely critical," Bryant said after finishing with nine points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and eight turnovers in 28 minutes. "There was a bunch of things that I completely messed up on."
When asked to grade his performance, Bryant gave himself an "F." And when asked whether he had been "reborn in a new form," he quipped, "Right now my form is a horse---- form." Bryant was particularly down on himself for being responsible for a hefty portion of the Lakers' 19 turnovers, which led to 22 points for Toronto.
"I failed miserably at that," Bryant said after revealing that his personal expectation for his debut was to avoid turnovers. "That was really the biggest thing for me, just trying to take care of the basketball, because I know I'm going to be in charge of making some decisions out there. ... Basketballwise, I'm not happy."
Bryant, who was playing with four teammates -- Wes Johnson, Shawne Williams, Nick Young and Xavier Henry -- for the first time in a game, said it is a matter of adjusting to the new personnel as well as the game speed and pressure brought on by opposing defenses.
"My rhythm is completely out of sync in terms of being able to read passing lanes and judge the timing of players in between those lanes and so forth," Bryant said. "But I guess it's a start. I guess a start is good."
Coach Mike D'Antoni, who trotted out his eighth difference starting lineup of the season -- adding Bryant to the fold -- through the Lakers' 10-10 start, warned he could shuffle things again. The most likely candidate to be replaced is Robert Sacre, who had just two points and one rebound in 10 minutes in his second start of the season.
D'Antoni said the identity the Lakers had assumed over the first 19 games of the season was "disrupted." The coach even considered keeping Bryant on the bench in the fourth quarter after L.A.'s bench unit had cut Toronto's 14-point second-half lead to four, but decided against it.
"I wanted to live a little bit," D'Antoni said of bringing Bryant back in to close the game. "We've got to get through this, so it's like, 'OK, maybe you lose the skirmish anyway and the battle is bigger.' Obviously we're going to ride Kobe. So you might as well get it over with and go ahead."
Bryant, who described his experience being back in uniform as "weird" and added, "I don't feel normal at all," said his self-assessment won't end with his nearly 20-minute postgame news conference.
"I couldn't wait to start watching the film and start criticizing every little thing," Bryant said. "That's the exciting part. The exciting part is you got a challenge, you got improvements to make and you sit and you watch them and you break it down, and you get ready for the next game and you carry it from there."
Bryant's teammates were much easier on the 15-time All-Star.
"We're happy to have him back, and I think tonight was a very positive performance by him," Pau Gasol said.
Added Jodie Meeks, who relinquished his starting shooting guard role to Bryant, "It was great. Maybe he was a little rusty. It's been eight months, so that's expected, but it won't take him long to get back."
How long does Bryant expect it to take for him to get back to a level of execution he will feel comfortable with?
"It will take a little time," Bryant said. "Hopefully sooner rather than later. Like, Tuesday."
The Lakers' next game is Tuesday at home against the Phoenix Suns. Realistically, however, he knows it will take longer than that.
"It's like chopping a tree," Bryant said. "One swing of the ax is not going to get it done. You just have to keep at it, keep at it, keep at it and keep at it and stay focused internally on what you have to do to improve."
After playing Bryant for 28 minutes against Toronto, D'Antoni said he would like to limit the star guard's court time to the 25-to-26-minute range in the immediate future.
"Hell yeah," Bryant said when asked whether he was OK with a reduction in minutes. "Absolutely."
Bryant did not feel like the amount of time he played would hurt him Monday in his recovery. "I feel fine," he said.
Would he be sore?
"Probably, but that soreness is just because I'm like 60," Bryant, 35, said, taking a self-deprecating dig at his age. "My tendon feels completely fine. Now it's just managing the body and making sure you have proper nutrition and hydration and stretching and ice baths and all that fun stuff, and doing what you have to do to make sure you're ready day in and day out."
Bryant, who said he came into the game weighing 225 pounds with 8 percent body fat, also said he needs to improve his diet.
"I need to drop some more," he said. "I need to be a little lighter."
He also explained his 2-for-9 shooting night, including an 0-for-3 mark on 3-pointers.
"My legs aren't there to be able to just catch and shoot yet because I'm not in the proper rhythm to do it yet," Bryant said.
It wasn't all doom and gloom from Bryant, however. He said he was proud of the intense rehabilitation he underwent in order to return and that he became emotional just before tipoff thinking about all the support he received during his comeback. He even cracked a big smile when asked about the Staples Center public address system playing Darth Vader's theme song from "Star Wars" when he was introduced during the starting lineups.
"They must know I'm a huge John Williams nut," said Bryant, referring to the composer who wrote the music.
And for all of Bryant's brutal honesty about what he lacked against the Raptors, the 18-year veteran ultimately found a silver lining in the performance.
"I feel very optimistic," Bryant said. "Like, I know exactly what I need to do. So that part's exciting."
There is simply more work to be done.
"I think the last time I had eight months off I was still in the womb," he said. "So it felt good to get out there."