Kobe Bryant rejoins Lakers — minute details to be determined

Kobe Bryant rejoins Lakers — minute details to be determined
Lakers star Kobe Bryant dunks during a game against the Utah Jazz in January. Bryant is set to play in his first game with the Lakers since suffering a torn Achilles' tendon last season. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

One question is answered: Kobe Bryant will return to the court Sunday night against Toronto at Staples Center.

But then it gets a little murky from there.


How will he look? Who loses playing time? Will the Lakers continue to have a winning record, after somehow holding down the court with a 10-9 mark without Bryant?

Answers on the way. Maybe.

Bryant will play 20-something minutes against Toronto, Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said after Bryant completed a brief but symbolic practice Saturday, his final one after almost eight months of recovery and rehabilitation from a torn Achilles' tendon.

"He's not going to be above the rim for a while, which is fine," D'Antoni said. "There's been great players that have played below the rim. He'll have to do that for a little bit."

Bryant did not talk to reporters Saturday. Until Sunday's game is over, his work will have to take the place of his words.

His eyes were reddened when he met with reporters in front of his locker April 12, propped up on crutches after falling to the court with 3:08 to play against Golden State. His left foot appeared to buckle while he drove to the basket, and he called timeout after being fouled by Harrison Barnes.

Bryant was visited by trainer Gary Vitti on the court and stayed in the game only to make two free throws before walking slowly off with Robert Sacre.

"I made a move that I make a million times and it just popped," Bryant said at the time.

Now he's a 35-year-old coming off a traumatic sports injury, D'Antoni saying "I think so" when asked Saturday if Bryant could come close to the 27.3 points and six assists he averaged last season.

"I don't think right at the start, but I'd give him a month and he should be back to those numbers," D'Antoni said.

Bryant will start at shooting guard and sometimes slide over to the point with the Lakers down to one healthy point guard (Steve Blake). Bryant will defend small forwards or shooting guards his first few games.

Regardless, lineup changes are on the way.

"You throw that boulder in the water, there's going to be some ripples. Serious ripples," D'Antoni said. "People have to adjust to it."

The biggest loser will be Jodie Meeks. He led the team in scoring after 12 games and is third at 13.5 points through 19 games. He will now come off the bench.

"I figured it was coming," Meeks said. "But for me personally, my role doesn't change. I just have to come in, be solid on defense, knock down shots."

Nick Young or Xavier Henry could also lose minutes, part of the trickle-down effect from a player who averaged 38.6 minutes last season.

Bryant's return wouldn't add any pressure to a team that was treading water in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference, Meeks said.

"Still the underdogs," he added. "He's a great player but at the same time he hasn't played in a while. We need him but he also needs us to help him get through his rustiness."

The Lakers were 10th in the conference going into Saturday's games, two spots below the playoff cutoff.

Other changes?

Sacre will continue to start at center for the Lakers after making his first career start Friday against Sacramento. He had 11 points and five rebounds in 17 minutes in the Lakers' 106-100 victory.

Steve Nash will not play Sunday because of nerve damage in his back, and reserve point guard Jordan Farmar is out at least three more weeks because of a strained hamstring.

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan