In a week when Bryant made more news than his teammates
by simply practicing, the anticipation about his possible return has been ratcheted up several times.
The Lakers want him to play. Lakers fans want him to play. Kobe wants to play. But with his comeback so near, maybe it's best to take a step back and tell Bryant to slow down and take his time.
What's the rush? Bryant practiced on successive days this week, but he also skipped a team workout on Thursday because of soreness not connected to his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon.
Neither Bryant nor the Lakers has established a timetable for his return, and for good reason. There are almost certain to be setbacks along the way -- a nagging little injury, occasional fatigue from practice, more soreness -- and the worst thing he can do is rush.
A return Friday night is already out. So is Sunday night against the Sacramento Kings. The Lakers haven't yet addressed the three road games next week at Washington, Brooklyn and Detroit, but it doesn't make sense to mark his return on the road.
Their next home game is Dec. 1 against Portland, possibly the earliest Bryant could step on the court. That would give him nine more days to work himself back into playing condition.
But again, what's the rush? Are the Lakers playing for an NBA championship or a lottery pick? With or without Bryant, this is not a team that figures to advance in the playoffs. If they drift back far enough and miss the postseason, their chances of picking a talented player in a rich draft class grows stronger. And with millions of dollars of players coming off the books, they can build a team around Bryant that could possibly become an instant contender.
Make no mistake. Bryant isn't considering any of that as he progresses toward his first game back. That's not his reputation. He is so driven, so competitive, that he is focused only on playing at a peak level and winning games.
"I know he's been working extremely hard to get back out there for this moment," guard
Steve Blake told reporters Wednesday. They expect nothing less.
But pushing himself won't work if it only serves to set him back. That's why the best thing he -- and Lakers fans -- can do is take a deep breath and allow things to happen gradually.
The best sight will be watching Bryant play at full tilt, running up and down the court, creating shots, directing teammates and making those off-balance jumpers that only he can make.
The worst thing would be to see him play at less than full speed, unable to contribute significant minutes or do the things he usually does. Worse, he could reinjure his Achilles or hurt some other area of his body while playing cautiously.
So proceed with caution. Better to come back one day too late than one day too early. There are still 4½ months left in the regular season. Don't take risks.
Lakers fans can keep their eyes on Kobe sitting on the bench this weekend. For now and the immediate future, that's the best view for everyone.