Kobe Bryant sat down with the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday during his summer basketball camp at UC Santa Barbara to discuss all things Lakers. In the interview, he talked about rehabilitating from the Achilles’ tendon injury he sustained in April, Dwight Howard’s decision to leave the Lakers, which free agent he’d like to play with next season and his future. Below is a question-and-answer recap of the interview.
How is your Achilles’ tendon doing?
“Feeling good. Feel relaxed, feel strong.”
Would you say that you’re behind or ahead in your rehab?
“I’m far ahead, far ahead. Surprisingly so, but really ahead of schedule.”
When you return to the court, do you think we’ll be able to see the same Kobe we’ve always seen?
“Every year is always a little different, just from things that you have to tweak, and how your body changes, so it’ll probably be a little different, but the results will be the same.”
Were you surprised that Dwight Howard didn’t choose to re-sign with the Lakers?
“Can’t say that I was, can’t say that I wasn’t. I really try to detach myself from the situation. Situations that you can’t control, I try not to stress myself out about it or overthink the situation. It’s on the individual to make the decision, so I wasn’t leaning one way or the other.”
Maybe you weren’t surprised, but were you disappointed Howard went to Houston?
“No, I was pretty dead center. It’s his decision and whichever path he goes, I know this organization is going to figure out the best thing going forward. One way or the other, it just seems like this is one of the franchises that always lands on its feet. So whatever happens, is what was supposed to happen.”
What was going through your mind when you unfollowed Dwight Howard on Twitter?
“He’s a competitor now. It’s simple as that. Some people think that’s petty, but whatever. That’s how I am.”
Now that Dwight Howard is gone, do you think Pau Gasol will fit better into Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni’s system?
“I have no doubts about that. Pau is more comfortable playing a center position. He can control the game, control the pace more. He’ll certainly be more comfortable.”
You’re a huge proponent of Metta World Peace. What do you like about him?
“His tenacity. He’s a competitor. He can be best friends with you, but once the game starts, he wants to beat you and beat you in the worst way. In all my years of playing, that’s one guy I can always trust to do battle with. Him, Derek Fisher, those guys are guys that no matter what are going to be ready to play.”
Since you’re recovering from an injury and Howard is gone, some critics are saying that next season will be a wasted year for the Lakers. Do you agree?
“Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong. We don’t know. That’s the beauty of competition. That’s the beauty of trying to prove people wrong. Maybe they’re right, maybe they aren’t, but we’re going to try and shut them up.”
Is there a specific player who will be a free agent in 2014 with whom you want to play?
“There’s always a collection of guys. Next summer is supposed to be a really, really big summer in terms of free agents that are available, and there’s no shortage of great players, so I’m sure we’ll hopefully have a nice pick.”
Who would you rather have, LeBron James or Carmello Anthony?
“I’ve played with both of them on the USA team. I don’t even understand what the rules are; I don’t know if I’ll get in trouble for all of this stuff, but I enjoy playing with both of them and had a great time playing with them on the USA team.”
What does rehab entail?
“It’s about three hours, sometimes four, depending on the day. It consists of weight training, manual therapy, modalities, doing the elliptical.”
Are you back on the court?
“I can shoot, but they’d just rather me not. And there’s no reason to rush it, so I’d rather just wait and let the tendon strengthen and completely heal and go from there.”
How much longer do you think you’ll remain a Laker?
“I’ve always kind of said that it’s nearing the end, and this is the last chapter, and it is. How many pages in that last chapter, I don’t know. But it’s definitely the last chapter. I’ve been rejuvenated somewhat by the injury and inspired by watching what San Antonio was able to accomplish this year, so I’m ready to go for at least another three.”
Has the injury rejuvenated you mentally or physically, or both?
“Mentally, I think mentally I’m more locked in, more engaged on the prospects of playing another three or four years.”
What do the Lakers need to do to become a championship-caliber team again?
“I think just adding the right pieces. We got certain guys on the team that do things very well and we have certain holes [where] we’re lacking that we need to shore up in terms of length and speed and shooting. If we can do that with a couple of guys, obviously Ryan Kelly is a big addition, if we can find a couple of guys who have length and speed, we’ll be fine.