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Getting Kobe back, and back to being Kobe, critical for Lakers

POSTED: Oct 16, 2013 8:20 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper,


Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol will be leaned on heavily in 2013-14.

It officially became the stuff of international intrigue the first full week of training camp. Kobe Bryant left the Lakers, went to Germany for another round of treatment on his right knee and, suddenly, the implications of his uncertain health were jumping continents.

Bryant and his team searching for an identity were global anyway, in good times and, um, now. But crossing oceans in October for medical purposes was rare even by his standards. Which is not to be confused with his marketing/business trip to Dubai that ended hours before the first day of camp or the NBA/business trip to China for preseason games against the Warriors.

Europe, the Middle East, Asia, sneaking in a little Los Angeles -- how very Kobe of him.

Lakers Preview: Coach's Corner

The calendar is everything now because the Lakers will be driving to Staples Center on Oct. 27 to begin the season against the Clippers, to be followed soon after by jetting to Oakland and Texas and Louisiana and Denver, all before 2013-14 is 11 games old. By the time Bryant headed to Germany, no one had even a shrugging guess whether he would return for the opener, for Nov. 7 in Houston against 'ol buddy 'ol pal Dwight Howard, or for any of November. And that doesn't even get into the little matter of level of play once he does come back.

Unlike any other team, the season hinges on the calendar for the Lakers. Steve Nash, the other guard, the other sign of dependability when the body allows, is 39 years old, turns 40 in February, and for the first time will have his minutes rationed. Everything changes with his availability. Meanwhile, the former contenders figure to be playing for their playoff lives. Just reaching the postseason may make 2013-14 a success. The clock will be ticking from the start.

"I'm not really feeling the pressure from it," Bryant said. "I know what we could do. I feel very comfortable in that. I feel very poised about it. I think the team feels the same way. It's not really a concern."

The Laker outcome always depends on Bryant, of course. Only now there is no Shaquille O'Neal, no Howard, no Pau Gasol at an All-Star level and no Nash at 30-35 minutes per.

2013-14 Lakers Season Preview

"Maybe the level" of Bryant's play is of more concern than the calendar, coach Mike D'Antoni said. "With anybody. But not when or how. And the thing is, it ... doesn't matter. There's no use worrying about that. We can't control that. He's going to do everything he can to come back as soon as he can and at the best level he can. We'll just have to wait and see how that happens."

All indications are that the recovery from the Achilles' injury is going well, even better than expected. When it happened, April 12 against the Warriors, initial speculation was that Bryant could miss 9 to 12 months, or that it could mean the end of his career. The latter guess was more about Bryant having earlier said he might retire after 2012-13 than any legitimate suggestions he would not be able to play again.

He will play again. The only question is when and at what level. And how much ground the Lakers will have lost by then.

Three points

1. While this is a veteran team with team players at the forefront -- Bryant, Nash, Gasol -- this is also a team loaded with players in the final season of deals. That's a lot of contract drives going on at once. D'Antoni and the leaders are saying all the right things about not letting selfishness overtake the locker room, but it will be a subplot to watch, especially if losses pile up and frustration rules the day.

2. Strange to see the Lakers become the place where so many players are looking to save/re-start their careers. Those chances usually are not available with the Lakers. But the roster at the opening of training camp 2013 includes Jordan Farmar, Dan Gadzuric, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Chris Kaman and Shawne Williams.

3. The depth will be better than last season because it's nearly impossible to be worse, but the bench remains an issue in a season when the availability of Bryant is in question and Nash will play with rationed minutes. The encouraging part for D'Antoni is that point guard is well stocked, with Steve Blake and Farmer. Otherwise, the Lakers are relying on the likes of either Kaman or Jordan Hill among the bigs, depending who starts, and Johnson or Nick Young among the wings.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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