- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Stitches removed, out of a cast and with nearly six weeks of rehabilitation under his belt since surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg, Kobe Bryant is still hoping for a return by the Los Angeles Lakers' 2013-14 season opener.
"I hope so," Bryant said in a sit-down interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com on Monday. "That's the challenge. With the tendon, there's really only but so much you can do. There's a certain amount of time that they deem necessary for the tendon to heal where you don't overstretch it and now you never get that spring back.
"So, you just have to be patient, let the tendon heal, and then when that moment comes when they say, 'OK, we can take off the regulator so to speak and now it's on you to train as hard as you can to get back to where you want to be,' that's going to be a good day."
Before that day is likely to occur, there will be another date on the calendar that holds particular significance for how Bryant's Lakers will look next season: July 1, the day Dwight Howard can begin to hear competing offers as a free agent.
While Howard reportedly has strong interest in the Houston Rockets and could be courted by Dallas, Atlanta, Golden State and Cleveland, Bryant is in no rush to be the first to pitch the All-Star center to come back to L.A.
"For me, you kind of let him do his due diligence and then move in and talk to him and figure out if this is a place he wants to be," Bryant said. "We all want him here. But then that's when the selling begins [after Howard is courted by other teams]. You don't start the selling process right before he goes and does all this stuff. You want to get the last word. You want to have the final word and the closing argument.
"I'll give him a little opening statement, but then I have to make sure I have the final word."
If Howard ends up being a one-year rental rather than the face of the franchise moving forward, Bryant is confident the Lakers, with 16 championships to their credit, will still find a way to thrive.
"This franchise is a franchise that you really don't have to worry about too much, because no matter what happens, whether it's a year from now, two years from now, whatever the case may be, they're always going to find a way to have an impact on this league," Bryant said.
Should the Lakers resort to a Plan B if Howard walks, Bryant said he will make his voice part of the process.
"It's gotten to a point at this stage in my career where those lines of communication are more open and we talk more frequently both with [general manager] Mitch [Kupchak] and [vice president of player personnel] Jimmy [Buss] and [vice president of business operations] Jeanie [Buss] to a certain extent," Bryant said. "Those lines of communication are open."
Bryant has already communicated with Jeanie Buss' fiance and his former coach, Phil Jackson, over what Jackson wrote about Bryant in his recent book, "Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success," in which Jackson gave the nod to Michael Jordan when comparing the two shooting guards.
"I talked to Phil about it," said Bryant, who added that he has not read the book. "I said, 'You know, you can't compare me at [age] 21-22-23 to Michael at 28-29-30. That's not a fair comparison. But, you know, I'm comfortable at resting on my five [championships] and what I had to do for this team to be successful.
"We both had different roles, and [Jordan] had his level of frustration coming up as a young player and challenges that he had to deal with, and I had mine in playing a different role to what I thought naturally I could do. We had different career paths, man, so it's kind of tough to [compare]. At least for me it is, anyway."
While Jordan holds the edge in championships (six to Bryant's five) and career points (32,292 for third all time to Bryant's 31,617 for fourth all time), Bryant said he has already accomplished what he set out to achieve when he was drafted into the NBA as a 17-year-old out of high school in 1996.
"When I came into the league, I wanted to win multiple championships," Bryant said, appearing in good spirits and clean shaven after growing a beard for nearly a month following his Achilles surgery. "As a young kid, it was like, well, this is what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to win five, six, seven championships, because that's what Magic [Johnson] did. That's what [Bill] Russell did. That's what Jordan did. I feel very comfortable with my career and what I've been able to accomplish in that regard."
Plus, there is one area in which Jackson ranked Bryant ahead of Jordan: in their player-coach relationship. Jackson recently told "Mike & Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio that he was closer to Bryant than any other player he coached in his 20 seasons manning the sidelines for the Lakers and Chicago Bulls.
"Go figure," Bryant said, shrugging. "It's just a great example of how relationships evolve, of how relationships can grow."
Bryant wants Jackson to continue to harbor more relationships by working in the NBA in some capacity.
"I think it would be a disservice to the game if he wasn't involved in the game at some level," Bryant said. "I think he still has a lot to offer the game and I think he wants to offer it. So, my guess is that he'll be involved at some level. At least, I hope so."
While it's unknown whether Jackson will return to the NBA or how long it will be until he does so, it's also unclear how much more time Bryant will stay in it. Bryant has one year remaining on his contract with the Lakers and has yet to commit to playing beyond what will be his 18th season in the league.
One thing that's certain is Bryant does not plan on announcing to the world when his final season is underway.
"I don't know if I want a farewell tour because I want that competition," said Bryant, who called himself a "dinosaur" following the recent retirements of Jason Kidd and Grant Hill. "I want the crowd being on top of you all the time. I wouldn't want a farewell tour. No. I wouldn't do that."
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne