Kobe Bryant returned to the practice court Saturday for the first time since sustaining a torn Achilles’ tendon in mid-April, his strongest step yet toward a return to game action.
The practice consisted of some contact drills, shooting and strategy work.
Players were supposed to go at half speed but it “turned into 100% real fast. And Kobe was part of it,” reserve guard Steve Blake said.
“He looks like Kobe to me, basically. He’s moving well, right back to his old self.”
Bryant did not talk to reporters but did an interview for NBA TV that detailed his on-court progress.
“The fadeaway still works, the ball-handling and being able to post,” he said. “Those are things that I can do right now. But it’s not the playoffs, thank God.”
Playoffs? The Lakers are hardly guaranteed to get there, with or without Bryant.
He began ramping up his off-the-court workouts in recent weeks, though the team declined to provide an updated timetable for his return.
“If it was a playoff game tonight, I could play,” Bryant said. “I don’t know how effective I’d be, but I would play.”
The Lakers play Detroit on Sunday and then are off until Friday against Golden State.
Coincidentally, Bryant was injured against the Warriors last season, falling to the court after his left foot appeared to buckle while he drove toward the basket with 3:08 to play. He was actually fouled on the play by Harrison Barnes, called timeout and was visited by trainer Gary Vitti on the court.
Bryant stayed in the game to make two free throws, the Lakers committed an intentional foul, and Bryant walked slowly off the court with Robert Sacre assisting him into the locker room.
Bryant had surgery to repair his Achilles the next day. He is in the seventh month of a timetable that predicted he would be out six to nine months.
For now, the Lakers are monitoring Bryant’s availability one practice at a time.
“The next practice day will be Tuesday. We’ll look forward to see what he can do then,” Lakers spokesman John Black said. The team will have a day off after Sunday’s game and then have three scheduled practice days.
The Lakers have struggled out of the gate, going 4-7 and lacking a go-to guy down the stretch of several games.
Bryant, 35, would stand to change all that … if he came back as Bryant.
He averaged 27.3 points and shot a commendable 46.3% last season before getting injured. He also tied a career-best by averaging six assists and added 5.6 rebounds a game.
Players and coaches have lately lamented his absence, noting the need for more scoring punch late in games.
“I think it’s an issue that we don’t have Kobe,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said after the Lakers lost to Memphis on Friday, 89-86, missing five of six shots during a late four-minute stretch.
Said Blake: “Of course [he] makes a difference. We have talented players, but you guys have been watching Kobe do this for years. You know what he would bring to us.”
Bryant is in the last year of a contract paying him $30.5 million this season.
He said he remained motivated by the “low-hanging fruit” of continual skepticism about his return.
“That’s right there,” he said. “It’s very easy to get me going, hearing what everybody says and the countless times they write me off. That’s, like, really really easy to hit that switch.”