Kobe Bryant is just three months removed from a torn Achilles, and Dwight Howard's exit from L.A. is probably still stinging, but neither of those things stopped Los Angeles Lakers vice president Jim Buss from delivering a sparklingly optimistic outlook on his team's future.
In an interview with NBA TV during the Lakers' Summer League contest against the Milwaukee Bucks, Buss did his best to stir the hopes of Lakers fans by pegging Bryant's return at a startlingly early date. He told Rick Kamla and Sam Mitchell:
We're in Vegas, and I would bet a lot of money that [Bryant] comes back probably preseason...He's real sharp in taking care of himself and he's not going to rush anything just to get back just to prove a point. He's going to come back when he's right.
He's a machine; he's inhuman that way. I see him coming back at the beginning of the season.
Let's parse the logic of Buss' response.
His first mistake is pinning himself to a Bryant return before the season starts. He quickly realizes he's been a bit overzealous and then hedges his bet by assuring fans that Bryant won't rush back. Having sufficiently backtracked, Buss then says that No. 24 will be back at the beginning of the season.
For what it's worth, Bryant's recovery time was set at six to nine months, which means his earliest possible return wouldn't be until mid-October. So in that sense, Buss' initial estimate—clearly a best-case scenario—isn't too far off.
But the man clearly needs a primer in the art of managing expectations.
Buss also talked briefly about Howard's decision to leave the Lakers. Based on dime-store psychoanalysis, it appears that he's somewhere between "bargaining" and "denial" in his progression through the stages of grief. Buss said:
When we traded for him, basically we knew we were renting him for a year...We were prepared. It wasn't a shock to our system or the Laker fans or the Laker organization that he left and put us in a bad spot. We were okay either way because we were prepared for it.
To hear Buss tell it, the Lakers had a plan ready in the event Howard left. And if what we've seen since D12's exit is any indication, that plan apparently consisted of signing role players to minimum-salary deals and picking up scraps on the free-agent market.
That's not a plan, Mr. Buss; that's the last resort of a capped-out team.
No matter what happens this season, the Lakers are primed to have clear books and a fresh start in the summer of 2014. Things don't look particularly promising for the upcoming campaign, but at least L.A.'s more visible executives are seeing the glass as half-full.
Apparently, hope springs eternal at the Las Vegas Summer League.