The past few years of Los Angeles Lakers basketball hasn't quite resembled the brand that made the franchise so famous. A team that has spent most of the past two seasons near the bottom of the Western Conference, it's been without its star, NBA legend Kobe Bryant.
Yet on Thursday, Bryant's arrival at the Lakers' practice facility gave basketball fans hope they'll see No. 24 thrive on the court once more as team general manager Mitch Kupchak addressed Bryant's status and outlook before the 2015-16 season.
Recovering from a shoulder injury that required surgery, Bryant was forced to miss 47 games last season. Kupchak spoke with the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina on the matter (via InsideSoCal.com): "He looks great. He assured me he’s working out every day. Over the years, we’ve gotten to he point where he takes care of himself and when he comes to camp, he’ll be ready. But as far as what level of play and how many minutes and how will he play on the team remains to be seen."
Still, at 37 years old and having played just 41 games over the past two seasons, it might be too much to ask of Bryant to sustain a heavy workload upon his return.
But according to Medina, there have not been formal discussions about a possible minutes restriction. For Kupchak, it all depends on how Bryant performs in training camp.
"I would imagine he would not practice twice a day every day," Kupchak said. "He’s earned the right to really progress in training camp at a certain pace that works for him and works for us."
No matter what kind of progression Bryant shows, though, Kupchak told Medina that he is still L.A.'s leading man even with the arrivals of D'Angelo Russell and Roy Hibbert:
I don’t think it’ll be any different than it has been in years past. He’ll be 100 percent on board with the game plan. He’ll be patient, as patient as can be. There will be a point where if things aren’t going the way that he feels they should be going or the players aren’t producing or his instincts will kick in, I’m sure he’ll try to do much as much as possible. That’s something that will once again flush itself out in training camp and the first six to eight weeks of the season. Hopefully everyone makes a contribution.
Bryant will have to be the leader of a revamped Lakers team that is trying to rebound from a 21-61 season. If he can turn back the clock and play anywhere near to the player he was—even when he was 34—then the Lakers might surprise some people this year.