Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant is known for his unquenchable competitiveness, but even he is being realistic about his return from offseason surgery and rehabilitation on his torn Achilles tendon.
Bryant did an hour-long interview with Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday night. Among the topics of discussion were the Lakers' prospects for next season, the new additions GM Mitch Kupchak brought to the roster and where Bryant stands in terms of his recovery.
But a key point in the dialogue was when the 34-year-old Bryant, who is set to enter his 18th NBA campaign, acknowledged that he may not be ready for the regular season opener on Oct. 29.
The prognosis remains ever-optimistic though, as reported by HOOPSWORLD.com's Alex Kennedy:
Kobe Bryant admitted he may not be ready for the season opener, but did say that he's "really, really ahead of schedule" with his recovery.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) August 16, 2013
Temptations for Bryant to play will likely increase as the date gets closer, especially since the contest in the Staples Center pits the Lakers against the cross-town rival Clippers.
After all, one of the many notable quotes Bryant provided went as follows: "People just don't understand how obsessed I am with winning."
At one point, Kimmel discussed the number of minutes Bryant played last season and asked whether he would consider playing fewer moving forward. Bryant implied that the moves made by Kupchak were made with that objective in mind, per ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin:
Kobe when asked if he'll play less minutes next season: "That's the goal ... I could sit out until June, I just want that jewelry"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) August 16, 2013
If the ultimate goal is to match Michael Jordan with six NBA titles, it would definitely be in Bryant's best interest to sit on the bench early on rather than rush himself back and try to get the Lakers off to a fast start.
The risk associated with that prospective Herculean effort would outweigh the benefit of nabbing a few early victories. This isn't a situation where head coach Mike D'Antoni will get the ax five games into the season, as Mike Brown did last year.
ESPN.com recently released its projections for the upcoming NBA season and had the Lakers finishing 12th in the Western Conference. As might be expected, Bryant didn't take kindly to it, and poked fun at it in the interview, too:
"ESPN gets stuff wrong all the time," Kobe said. "... They pick us to be the favorites last year and they were wrong about that."— janis carr (@janiscarr) August 16, 2013
Can the Lakers beat the Clippers without Kobe Bryant in the season opener?
It is a long, 82-game season, and Bryant professed faith in newly acquired wing players such as former lottery pick Wesley Johnson and sharpshooter Nick Young.
For a player who has been reluctant to trust teammates at various stages of his career, Bryant certainly seems keener to play the part of veteran mentor as the twilight of his playing days approaches.
Having said that, the fire is still there. Bryant told Kimmel he is by no means in the mood to motivate those who aren't the intrinsically driven sort. Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, brother of Bryant's longtime teammate Pau, documented the soundbite for the Twitterverse:
"I'm not the patient type to try to give advice. Get your ass in gear. If you want to do something, do it" Kobe Bryant, couldn't agree more.— Marc Gasol (@MarcGasol) August 16, 2013
It's fine for Bryant to maintain that winning hunger, but he has to continue to pump the brakes on himself until he is fully ready to return to the hardwood from such a severe injury.
If he can do that, Bryant and the Lakers should be in position to prove the experts wrong in 2013-14—and this time in a positive manner.