Long after most of his teammates scattered, Kobe Bryant stayed on the practice floor hoisting jumper after jumper and free throws. The image showed why Bryant called his left Achilles tendon "stronger." It also explains why Bryant won't return when the Lakers (9-9) play Friday against the Sacramento Kings (4-11) at Sleep Train Arena, believing he still needs more work in improving what he calls" muscle endurance" so he can withstand the conditioning and physical demands of an actual game.
"I'm staying here. I'm not going up to lovely Sacramento," Bryant deadpanned.
With Bryant describing his Achilles both as "pretty good" and "a little stiff," can he return when the Lakers play Sunday against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center?
"I'm trying," Bryant said.
He had two individual workouts scheduled for Friday in Los Angeles and plans to sprinkle in more workouts and practice when the Lakers return Saturday.
Bryant participated in all of Thursday's practice, though Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni played him on the second unit to accommodate the Lakers' preparation against Sacramento without Bryant, Steve Nash (nerve issues in back) and Jordan Farmar (strained left hamstring). Nash will travel with the Lakers to Sacramento, while Farmar will stay in Los Angeles.
"He looks good, but a little rusty," D'Antoni said of Bryant. "He still looks like a dominant figure on the court. It's what you'd expect him to be. He plays well. I don't think it's at All-Star level today, but he'll make a big difference."
Bryant practiced for three consecutive days this week after staying confined to individual workouts during last week's three-game trip. He had practiced for two consecutive days in mid-November before stopping after feeling general soreness in his left foot.
Since then, Bryant has reported improvement in his range of motion, how his ankle feels the following morning, his conditioning and his driving. Bryant still sees weaknesses in his cutting and jumping. He revealed that scar tissue remains in his left ankle joint, which limits his mobility.
"The pull-up jump shots and fadeaways, my sea legs aren't quite there yet to be able to do that," Bryant said. "But the skill is there. I've work on it quite a bit and the strength is there. Now it's a matter of getting those game legs.
"It takes a while no matter how much running and conditioning you do," Bryant added. "To get out there and play is different. I'm sure I'll be limited in some capacity."
In Tuesday's practice open to reporters, Bryant took so much of a facilitating role that his lone field goal came on a fast-break dunk. Bryant will mostly play at shooting guard and small forward, but it's likely he'll have point guard responsibilities to accommodate the absences of Nash and Farmar.
"I'll be the push man, obviously, and will get up and down," said the 6-foot-6 Bryant. "It's no more different than the way I played my entire career when I'm handling the ball, getting us into stuff and pushing it."
Despite his limitations, Bryant has still exerted his influence.
Last week, he treated his teammates and staff members to Thanksgiving dinner in Detroit and participated in a series of ping-pong games. Team accounts describe his presence as prompting the Lakers to bolster their play. During the practice sessions open to the media, Bryant and his teammates routinely trash talk.
"I enjoy being around competitive people," Bryant said. "I like to sit around, talk trash all day and compete and talk more trash afterwards. It's fun. They don't have much of a choice, but they're starting to dish it back out. When they score, they talk trash to me and keep going back and forth. It makes for a fun practice."
But not ones that show Bryant at his best.
"We have to really be smart about it," Bryant said. "Perfect-case scenario, we get it right the first time. If not, we have to be smart about it as well and take it a step back and buld up the strength and say it's not as ready as we thought it was going to be. Let's take a step back and get it to where I want it to be." ___