Bryant returned to practice earlier this month, and his return to the court seems imminent, although he isn’t rushing back from perhaps the most significant injury of his career. Bryant said last week that he could adjust his game and contribute something to the Lakers right now, but he wants to make a full return when he finally steps on the court for his 18th NBA season.
“It’s definitely something where you’re kind of champing at the bit a little bit, but we’ve come so far,” Bryant said after practice last week. “I want to make sure, we all do, when you step out there you’re ready to go the long haul, and (the injury) isn’t something that continues on.”
Coach Mike D’Antoni has said Bryant can return whenever Kobe says he’s ready. The Lakers are surviving in his absence, improving to 7-7 on Sunday night by beating Sacramento for their third straight victory.
“I’ve been extremely proud of the way we’ve competed,” Bryant said.
The contract is another milestone in Bryant’s remarkable career. He was a 17-year-old high schooler when the Lakers acquired him after the Charlotte Hornets chose him in the first round of the 1996 draft, and Lakers fans watched as he evolved into one of the most dominant scorers in NBA history, dazzling fans with his offensive inventiveness and drawing critics for his ball-dominating style of play.
Bryant won three championships with Shaquille O’Neal from 2000-02 and added two more with Pau Gasol in 2009 and 2010, winning the NBA finals MVP award after each of those titles. He won his only NBA MVP award in 2008 and his scoring titles in 2006 and 2007, also earning 15 selections to the All-Star game — with four MVP awards from the showcase — and two Olympic gold medals with the U.S. national team.
Bryant hasn’t given up hope of adding a sixth championship ring to his trophy case, even while the Lakers struggle to keep up with the NBA’s best teams. With his immediate future secure, Bryant can focus on getting back to full strength on his injured leg.
“It’s always a much greater appreciation for it,” Bryant said of his imminent return. “You understand the mortality that comes with being on that doorstep. There’s always a sense of enjoyment when you come back.”