Kobe Bryant was smiling, even though Darth Vader was lurking nearby.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony for team owner Jerry Buss had just ended, and Bryant, for the first time this month, was ebullient while talking about his surgically repaired right knee.
“It was a great day today -- had a good practice, season’s starting tomorrow. It’s a good day,” Bryant said Monday, a few feet from hundreds of boisterous ceremony attendees on Hollywood Boulevard, including a reveler dressed as Darth Vader. “If it feels good [before the game], I’ll be ready to go.”
The Lakers begin the regular season tonight against Phoenix. Bryant was supposed to miss eight to 12 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery July 15. Usually known as a quick healer, he is halfway through his 16th week since surgery.
“The knee’s just a little different,” Bryant said. “I’ve had shoulders, hand, elbow, stuff like that. Knee’s a little different, especially in this situation, because we have an opportunity where we can get it healthy. It’s important that we do that.”
Coach Phil Jackson said the team’s first unit looked good at Monday’s practice, including Bryant, but declined to predict whether Bryant would play tonight.
“He’s got to make that decision,” Jackson said.
Jackson was more decisive in other areas, particularly about a contract extension.
Buss said Sunday that if Jackson wanted to coach beyond his current three-year, $30-million contract, “we’ll certainly want to have him.”
Jackson said he would not peer into next season, the final year of his contract, or any points beyond, until after this season.
“I’m honored by it and I think it’s a wonderful proposition, but I think Dr. Buss knows that we’ll have to take this year and then see what it looks like for next year,” said Jackson, who had hip-replacement surgery four weeks ago. “Right now, the mending process is going well, but as you know, this is about being strong and fit and getting through a season and really pushing the team and leading the team, and you’ve got to be active to do that as a coach. I hope in two months I’m going to say I’m stronger than ever.”
Jackson will coach tonight’s game at Staples Center but will not travel with the team for Wednesday’s road game against Golden State.
At his father’s insistence, Jim Buss has gradually received a larger role in team basketball decisions, a move he said he was ready to accept.
“I’m pumped up,” said Buss, the team’s vice president of player personnel. “The transition’s been so slow that it kind of feels natural. It’s not like, OK, he just handed me this piece of paper.
“We improved the team with Vlade [Radmanovic], Maurice Evans, with Jordan Farmar,” Buss said. “But one of the most important things is just the experience alone of playing under Phil. That’s going to account for a few wins there. We made the playoffs last year, I don’t see where this team’s any worse. It’s only better.”
The Lakers waived second-year forward Devin Green Monday and submitted their official 15-man roster to the league. Kwame Brown (shoulder), Aaron McKie (back) and Chris Mihm (ankle) are on the team’s inactive list. ... Jerry Buss, on the fact that Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal finally buried the hatchet before a Lakers-Miami game in January: “I would love to have had them bury it while they were here. ... That last year together was really painful for me to watch. It was just very painful to me, and that’s why I traded [O’Neal].”