Head coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters Friday that Bryant was indeed out for the opener while rehabbing the left Achilles he tore late last season, with no set timetable for his return.
“No,” D’Antoni said when asked if Bryant would be available for Tuesday’s opener against the Clippers. “My God, I know he’s Superman, but my God. He hasn’t run yet.”
Some fans had hope after Bryant was seen sprinting and doing some light shooting prior to a Lakers preseason game against the Warriors in China. “He’s making progress and he’ll be back as soon as he can,” D’Antoni said. “No use worrying about it. You only worry about it when people don’t work hard or are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. That’s not a problem.”
Lakers executive president Jim Buss also went on the record to dispute any reports that the Lakers would allow Bryant to become a free agent after the season. Bryant is in the last year of his current deal that will pay him an NBA-high $30.5 million this year.
“I want to put an end to any speculation that we would allow Kobe to become a free agent,” Buss told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Friday night. “That’s not going to happen. Kobe is a top priority for us. He’s a Laker legend and always will be. I don’t think we’re done winning championships with him yet.
“Mitch Kupchak and Rob Pelinka have been talking, but with him being hurt, it has slowed the process some. I don’t know when it’ll get done, but I have faith in Rob and Mitch to work things out.”
Bryant himself has stated that he will retire a Laker, but it’s hard to predict how much longer Bryant can perform at an elite level, given his age and the extent of his injury. Achilles injuries are typically more challenging for veterans to return to form from, and ended the career of a number of NBA greats in the past.
With Bryant’s reputation as one of the hardest, if not the hardest working players in the NBA, there’s little doubt that he will be back on the court and playing at a high level before long. Whether or not it’s enough to get the Lakers underwhelming roster back to the playoffs will be the question, and how much longer he’s able to contribute will be a hot topic for the Lakers all season.
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