- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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BOSTON -- Kobe Bryant plans to have his injured left knee re-evaluated sometime in early February and has no intention of sitting out the rest of the season, no matter how bad things get for the Los Angeles Lakers in the standings.
"The only thing I can afford to consider is getting better, getting stronger," Bryant said before the Lakers' 107-104 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday. "I can't allow myself to think any other way. I can only think about the next step. To do anything else becomes distracting if you allow yourself, if you give yourself wiggle room to not push yourself as hard as you possibly can. To think about sitting out and this, that and the other, your motivation is all wrong. I refuse to think that way."
Magic Johnson disagreed, as the former Lakers star questioned whether Bryant should come back at all this season in an interview with the Los Angeles Times this week.
"What is he coming back to? He's not going to be able to stop the pick and roll, all the layups the Lakers are giving up," Johnson told the newspaper. "He's been hurt twice, give him the whole year to get healthy."
In the same interview, Johnson called hiring Mike D'Antoni last season a "wrong decision."
"Normally I don't hear it until [the media] brings it up," D'Antoni said, adding that he has never spoken to Johnson in person since joining the Lakers. "There's voices everywhere, and it's a hard job to do no matter what team you're with. You do the best you can and you feel like every day is a new battle, and everybody has their opinion. There's a saying about that. ... So, that's the way it is. You go on and do your job."
Bryant, sidelined since Dec. 17 when he suffered a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee during the Lakers' 96-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, said he will return this season so long as he is medically cleared.
"We'll see where it's at in February and see if it's good to go," Bryant said, pushing back his return timeline ever so slightly, with D'Antoni having recently said Bryant would be re-evaluated Jan. 27, at the conclusion of the team's current seven-game trip while the Grammy Awards take over Staples Center.
Little has been good about the Lakers' play of late, with L.A. having gone into the Boston game having lost six games in a row and 12 of the previous 13. However, Bryant said the Lakers' record has nothing to do with his comeback plans.
"I don't think about that, man," Bryant said. "It's my job to be ready. It's my job to get myself in gear and do my job."
Even Bryant admitted the Lakers have been tough to watch.
"It's been very difficult, very frustrating," Bryant said. "I try to detach from it as much as possible. I feel like … Bruce Banner and putting him in the middle of a bar fight, and hope he doesn't become The Hulk. That's what I feel like watching these games."
"I mentally take myself someplace else," Bryant said. "I think about sitting on a beach, getting a tan."
Despite playing only six games this season after tearing the Achilles tendon in his left leg in April, Bryant said he already has been able to gauge what he has left as a 35-year-old, 18-year veteran.
"I know where I'm at," Bryant said. "Playing those games helped me identify that. So, in my training, I know exactly what adjustments I need to make and how my body felt and how I responded."
Bryant also responded to the recent fracas between Nick Young and the Phoenix Suns, which resulted in a one-game suspension for Young and a Lakers team meeting at shootaround Friday to discuss Young's claim that none of his teammates backed him.
"I think it's tough because it happens so fast, particularly for younger players," Bryant said. "Ryan [Kelly], he's a really young guy. He's not accustomed to being in those types of situations where an altercation breaks out. So, we learn from it. So now in the future if we see a situation where that happens, now they know how to react to those type of situations."
Despite Young's one-game ban costing the Lakers guard approximately $10,000 in salary, Bryant said he was impressed by Young's reaction.
"For Nick, I think it was a good sign," Bryant said. "It's never good to smack a player across the face, but for Nick, personally, he hasn't showed that competitive streak since he's been in the league. So now, it's starting to come out of him in terms of competing and showing it means more to him than just going out there and playing the games. That's a positive sign."
Bryant also explained why he audited a marketing class at Boston College on Thursday evening.
"It's interesting because I've been doing a good amount of international marketing for the last 15 years," said Bryant, who added the 6:30 p.m. ET class was "perfect timing" because the Lakers' team plane landed in Boston at 5. "So, to sit in a classroom and actually hear the proper terminology for some of the things that I've been doing was pretty cool."
And with Bryant back at TD Garden, the conversation naturally shifted to the Lakers' longtime rivals.
Bryant was asked to share his favorite moment of his career in Boston and chose Game 3 of the 2010 Finals, which the Lakers won 91-84 to go up 2-1 in the series before eventually winning it all in seven games.
"That was a tough one," Bryant said. "I don't think I slept from Game 2 all the way to Game 3. That was the pressure cooker right there."
Bryant also empathized with Boston's Rajon Rondo, who is sticking around while the Celtics try to rebuild back to a championship contender, similar to what Bryant experienced with the Lakers from 2004 to '07.
"It's frustrating," Bryant said. "But from what I understand, he's an a--h--- like me, so I think he'll manage."
Kobe Bryant plans to have his injured left knee re-evaluated sometime in early February and has no intention of sitting out the rest of the season, no matter how bad things get for the Los Angeles Lakers in the standings in the meantime.