CHICAGO — Derrick Rose had a good shine on him from a great sweat, something we’ve so rarely seen in recent years.
He was asked if the knee felt good during his just-finished workout.
“Felt great,” Rose said.
That’s something—but that was the extent of any injury-redemption narrative found at the United Center on Monday night, no matter how carefully the NBA schedule-maker crafted the Martin Luther King Day slate to bring Rose and Kobe Bryant’s comebacks to the same court.
Both stars’ motivational success stories after disastrous injuries are on hold.
Rose was out with his new knee injury, a torn meniscus in his right knee from the 10th game of this season. Bryant has only played in six games this season, derailed by a fractured left knee on top of the ruptured left Achilles that ended last season for him.
“It’s unfortunate, but you have two options,” Bryant said about their plights. “One is to lay down and not do anything about it. And the second is to get up and get to work. I think the second one is the more appealing one, for sure.”
Bryant said he continues to do heavy bike training to maintain his conditioning for his return. Bryant had told reporters Friday in Boston that the healing in his bone would be re-evaluated “in February,” but that’s not actually the plan.
The shooting guard is set to be examined Jan. 27 or 28, right after the Lakers’ road trip ends Sunday in New York. It is entirely conceivable that he gets medical clearance and even plays as soon as Jan. 31 against the Charlotte Bobcats. But Bryant’s reference to February suggests, if cleared, he could use the three off days to gear up and play the Lakers’ following game, Feb. 4 in Minnesota against the Timberwolves.
Or it’s an indication just how much he is taking this, as he said, “day by day” in not even looking at the future calendar.
Asked Monday about his return time table, Bryant said: “I try not to think about it too much.”
Again wearing the all-black outfit that symbolizes his black-out training time, Bryant has been so detached from the team that he was asked Monday by one of the team’s longtime beat writers: “Do you think they make the playoffs?”
Rose's post-workout comments don’t change the fact that the Chicago Bulls, determined to avoid the distracting limbo of last season, have ruled him out for the season (although for his part Rose has again left the door ajar on a playoff return).
There’s no doubt that Bryant is coming back though—and coming back soon—with something to prove, no matter how much pundits and fans suggest the Lakers rest him for future draft position.
Bryant was already more engaged in the final minutes of regulation and in overtime Monday night, trying to advise his teammates with a third consecutive Lakers victory within reach. Bryant even broke out his trademark hissing snake sound from the bench to get the attention of Nick Young out on the court for a reminder to box out Joakim Noah.
Bryant’s bravado regarding his game is coming back, too.
Asked how much doubt, if any, there is about returning to his desired level of play after this second injury, Bryant said: “Zero. Zero.”
Bryant allowed there was uncertainty before he went through the test of those six games this season, “because I didn’t know how my Achilles was going to respond to playing.”
He was inconsistent in those games—struggling with his rhythm and scoring nine, 20, four, 21, eight and 21 points. Instead of looking back with worry about the injuries or all the contact he got from manic defender Tony Allen in that last 21-point game, Bryant has been using his success in that Dec. 17 game as ongoing fuel for more.
He went on a bit of a rant Monday about the NBA having evolved into “more of a finesse game, it’s more of small ball, which personally, I don’t really care much for. I like kind of smash-mouth, old-school basketball, because that’s what I grew up watching.”
Bryant said it “makes me nauseous. You can’t touch a guy without it being a flagrant foul. … The truth is, it (the physicality from the past) makes the players have to be more skillful. Nowadays, literally anybody can go out there and get to the basket, because you can’t touch ‘em.”
It’ll be a long time before we see Rose use his speed burst to get to the basket again. But if you take Bryant at his word, he’s essentially guaranteeing that when medically cleared, we’ll see him get to the basket again, too.
He certainly is guaranteeing that he won’t shy away from the threat of future injury despite the stunning setbacks both he and Rose have suffered this season.
“I like the contact,” Bryant said.
Bryant even said Friday that sitting idly on the bench and watching the Lakers’ recent struggles has led him to feel like “you’re taking Bruce Banner and putting him in the middle of a bar fight and hoping he doesn’t become The Hulk.”
The Lakers have had Bruce Banner for 35 games and the Hulk for only six.
Perhaps as soon as late next week, green will mean go again.