It feels a little like deja vu—Kobe Bryant is once again spending the summer in rehab and training, looking toward a comeback by the start of the regular basketball season.
Except this time it's different.
There won’t be the same intense level of speculation as when he was on the mend from potentially career-ending Achilles surgery. There won’t be as many breathless articles, or timelines or tweets gone viral.
At least not about Bryant’s rehab and workouts. Perhaps in a larger team context.
Because this time he’ll be returning to action for a new head coach. As reported by the team’s official website on Wednesday, Mike D’Antoni has resigned.
Happy days are here again! Mike D'Antoni resigns as the Lakers coach. I couldn't be happier!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) May 1, 2014
Bryant came back to the Los Angeles Lakers last December, five months after the snap of a tendon heard around the world. He came back to a team beset by other injuries as well, and he was pressed into the role of point guard, because there simply wasn’t anyone else available to do the job.
Six games in, backing down Tony Allen of the Memphis Grizzlies, he turned and banged knees—an innocuous-looking move but it turned out to be the end of his 2013-14 comeback campaign.
The five-time NBA champion had fractured his knee. Specifically, the left lateral tibial plateau—code for that big bump at the top of the shin, right below the kneecap.
A projected six-week recovery stretched out longer, and longer still, until Bryant’s season ran out of road. And all he could do was watch from the bench, as the Purple and Gold piled up an astonishing 55 losses—the most in one season during their storied history.
Per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, Bryant was cleared for running and shooting, and began an intense six-month training regimen on the morning of April 21:
He has been ramping up his activity level the last few weeks and was confident about pushing harder after receiving positive feedback during a consultation last week with the doctors in Germany who previously performed the platelet-rich plasma treatment known as Orthokine on his knees.
Bryant’s return to the practice court involved two hours of basketball activities with teammate Wesley Johnson. According to TWC SportsNet, Lakers spokesman John Black described Bryant’s activities to reporter Mike Trudell, as “no restrictions other than what his body would limit him to do.”
Those two hours of early-morning hoops were probably just the beginning of Bryant’s offseason day, which has often been described as “666”—six hours of training, six days a week, six months per year.
His sessions are normally broken into two hours each of running, basketball drills and strength training.
Bleacher Report reached out to its resident injury expert, Will Carroll, asking about any possible differences from last summer and what we might expect this time around:
Really, the conditioning will be pretty standard. He's not that out of game shape and should be well rested. The key here is that the fracture shouldn't be a setback -- you'd rather he didn't have it, but they could have had him back if they wanted to. Instead of rehabbing as he was this time last year, he should be closer to a normal off-season/pre-season routine.
The other key is that the things he'll do to take some of the wear and tear off his knees will also take some wear and tear off his leg, were it to be an ongoing issue (which it shouldn't be.) So it's kind of belt and suspenders.
That conditioning will be done in conjunction with Lakers’ staff, including trainer Gary Vitti and head physical therapist Judy Seto. Bryant will also likely work with longtime personal trainer Tim Grover, whose other clients have included Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade.
Injuries and setbacks are reality. Face them as situations, not problems, and get to where you want to be. #WeGotThis— Tim S. Grover (@ATTACKATHLETICS) April 20, 2014
Grover recently joined Frank Isola and Stacey King on The Starting Lineup on SiriusXM NBA Radio. Asked to compare the work ethics of Jordan and Bryant, Grover responded, “M.J. worked out smarter, Kobe works out harder.” He also described a much more inquisitive client than Jordan, wanting to know every detail about each and every exercise.
When asked what kind of player Bryant would return as, Grover said:
“He’s going to return back at a very, very high level—I mean, obviously, there’s going be some adjustments in there that are going to be needed.”
The word adjustment comes up often these days in regards to a player with a lot of wear and tear. Bryant will turn 36 in August.
Mike Bresnahan for The Los Angeles Times, recently caught up with Vitti who also predicted a solid comeback for Bryant:
"Theoretically, the [torn] Achilles' tendon is stronger at 12 months than it is seven. So I think that in terms of the Achilles', he'll be fine. He's already got himself down to about 217 [pounds] now. He looks pretty lean and hasn't even really started working hard yet.”
Vitti’s biggest concern seems to be the speed that the league plays at these days, and how that might affect a guy heading into his 19th season:
“But what kind of a game is he going to play or what are we going to ask him to do and what is he going to want to do? Is he really going to be flying up and down the court with these young kids? Because I don't think anybody at that age can really do that.”
Bresnahan goes on to write that while Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak declined to elaborate on D’Antoni’s status, he did acknowledge the need to control the pace more next season:
“There will have to be some adjustments. Clearly as you get older, you have to make adjustments and Kobe is trying to do that.”
Now that the small-ball coach has exited the picture, the question of adjustments takes on added meaning. Bryant will still have to adapt his game, of course. And will the Lakers hire a coach whose philosophy is more in line with a post-driven offense?
Kobe Bryant player-coach. Make that happen.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 1, 2014
The Lakers have plenty of work ahead of them during this off-season—there’s the draft on June 26, the hiring of a new coach and the all-important free-agency period which begins July 1.
With just a handful of players under contract for next season, management has a roster to rebuild.
Bryant, meanwhile, has a body to rebuild—or at least, to retune.
But what will all that rehab and training actually look like?
Like a guy sitting on a trainer’s table, getting oft-injured limbs stretched out. Like a guy running relentlessly on an elliptical and pushing plates and doing pushups and making sure the muscles in both legs are balanced. It will look like Kobe Bryant practicing footwork fundamentals on the basketball court and shooting more jumpers than you can count.
It will look like ice baths and proper nutrition and rest, and getting up in the morning and doing it all over again.
His summer of rehab and training will look different this time around in the sense that it will be more of a familiar routine.
As for the team itself and the matter of a coach, we'll just have to wait and watch.