When the Los Angeles Lakers open their preseason schedule Sunday, Kobe Bryant will be on the floor with them for the first time in nearly 10 months.
Speaking to reporters Saturday, as noted by Sam Amick of USA Today, Bryant left no doubt that he wanted to play against the Utah Jazz.
“No, I’m definitely playing,” Bryant said. “[I didn’t] come all the way out here, [where] people are going to be coming to the game, and you’re going to be sitting on the bench? That’s not cool.”
The contest, which will take place at the University of Hawaii's Stan Sheriff Center, will feature Bryant's first in-game action since he had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder Jan. 28. It marked the second consecutive season in which he had to go under the knife.
Bryant's future in the NBA has been a source of constant speculation this offseason. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said on SiriusXM NBA Radio in May (via Jonathan Lehman of the New York Post) the former MVP gave indications this will be his final season.
“He has indicated to me this is it," Kupchak said. "He’s on the last year of a deal. There have been no discussions about anything going forward. I don’t think there will be. A year from now, if there’s something different to discuss, then it will be discussed."
Bryant has since commented on the matter, telling Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com he hadn't made up his mind on anything yet.
"If it is, it is," Bryant said. "If it isn't, I'll be ready for next season. I don't spend too much time thinking about it. I've got enough to think about."
While there will be plenty of time for Bryant to decide about basketball beyond this year, the Lakers will undoubtedly welcome the future Hall of Famer back on the court. This is a young team with developing talent such as Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell, who are expected to make a big impact.
Bryant's presence in the first preseason game should provide a jolt of electricity to the young nucleus, seeing how hard the 37-year-old has worked for this moment. The key will be making it out unscathed and carrying that determination into the regular season so Los Angeles can make a playoff push.