One of the hardest things about tracking injuries is dealing with rehab. Flat out, it's boring. It's tedious. There's very little in the way of visible progress, and when there is, it's usually something we have to really independently translate and analyze to get any sort of value from it.
Kobe Bryant is in the midst of the long, boring, tedious rehab from Achilles surgery. While it's understandable Lakers fans (and basketball fans in general) want more information, even Bryant's own Twitter account isn't giving much of a clue.
For their part, the Lakers have been consistent if nothing else: "No comment." Clearly, Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti and his staff aren't letting anyone peek.
That's not to say that things aren't going well, though.
There have been some encouraging signs, including a TMZ report from last week that showed Bryant walking around Italy with his family. Kobe did not appear to have any sort of walking boot on his left foot. It's impossible to see inside the sneakers Bryant is wearing, though it's likely there's an orthotic to take some of the pressure off the repaired Achilles.
There are four phases to the rehabilitation and recovery from Achilles reconstruction. Phases I and II normally take about 10 weeks and involve the immediate recovery from surgery and the return to function of the reconstructed tendon. Bryant was injured in mid-April and normally would be in Phase III, but the walking we've seen from him in Italy indicates that he's well ahead of schedule.
The Lakers are keeping Kobe in controlled situations, and the expectation has always been that he'd recover well ahead of normal estimates. There really is no "normal" when it comes to an elite athlete, let alone one at Bryant's level.
This also matches up with comments from Lakers owner Jim Buss, via ESPN's Arash Markazi. Buss thinks he will return at the low end of the normal six- to nine-month timeline, which would put him on track for training camp. That would give everyone additional opportunity to make adjustments for any style or physical changes in Kobe's game.
However, the hardest part is still ahead, no matter how much of an "inhuman machine" Buss says Bryant is. There's no evidence that he is doing impact activities such as running or jumping, though he has progressed to performing some controlled basketball activities.
Even with running, the Lakers are likely to be playing it safe, keeping much of Kobe's work confined to the Alter-G treadmill, as he showed in this Instagram photo two months ago, which takes much of the stress off the Achilles.
However, don't take this as a negative. "He's in a holding pattern," I was told by a medical source. "If he's ahead of schedule, that's good, but the goals for a player like that have to be attuned to the calendar. There's no game tomorrow."
(UPDATE: Just after this article was published, we got some new information. Bryant went to a Dodgers game, where he was seen walking up and down stairs. It doesn't make for the most scintillating video, but it's definitely a positive sign for Bryant and new info on exactly where he is in the process.)
If Bryant is able to come back for training camp in October, that would be the ideal, though there's little chance he would be participating in everything.
This timing situation is very analogous to what the Vikings had to deal with Adrian Peterson's return from ACL reconstruction in 2012. Peterson was well ahead of schedule as early as late January and perhaps "game ready" as early as May. But again, there are no games in May. The Vikings rehab team had to focus on keeping Peterson engaged while not risking the gains he had made.
When do you think Kobe will play again?
The Lakers will have to find that balance with Bryant.
There's no news conference, no exciting video and nothing that will make his next Nike commercial yet, but every nugget of information is telling us that Kobe Bryant is exactly where he said he would be.
That is, way, way ahead of schedule for a man his age with an injury of this magnitude.