Kupchak on Kobe
The hottest topic during Mitch Kupchak's look-ahead-to-the-season, 35-minute press conference on Wednesday at the Lakers practice facility was no surprise: Kobe Bryant.
Before any expectations can be assigned, or predictions rendered, the Lakers need to see how Bryant responds from the rehabilitation of his left Achilles that's been of primary focus since the original tear back in April.
Kupchak reiterated last week's update from team spokesman John Black, which detailed how Bryant's "progressing well" as expected but does not have a timetable to return to the basketball floor.
No real expectations. I do believe he’ll get back and play this season. You won’t be able to look at him and say he was hurt. In other words, some guys, like myself when I hurt my knee, I always had a limp. You won’t be able to tell (with Kobe). He’ll get back on the court, he’ll be healthy, but he is 35. His game has been evolving anyway the last two or three years, although statistically you would not notice that. Even if there is a difference statistically this year, it may be a function not of the injury, but of the team we have; he may decide to get players involved more or do things differently. He comes into the season with a mindset of how he’s going to play. I do expect when he does come back, and if he’s thinking a certain way, and we’re down by two or three, the Kobe we all know and love is going to take the last shot. I do know that.
If Bryant gets back early in the season and gives L.A. what Kupchak called a "high-performing player" for the vast chunk of the schedule, expectations will go one way. If there is a delay in his return, or setbacks, that's going to "affect the performance of the team."
Kupchak continued to explain how he's seen Bryant more often this offseason than in any of the 17 previous summers he's been a Laker, the 15-time All-Star checking in at around 7 a.m. every day to do rehabilitation with the team's head physical therapist, Dr. Judy Seto.
Kupchak was pushed for further specifics on the rehab process.
"The only thing I know is (Bryant's) still on the Alter-G (anti-gravity treadmill)," he explained. "That’s a gravity-oriented treadmill where you can adjust your weight percentages. When you get to 100 percent you’re there for a couple days, then you transition to the court ... when he get back to the court, it’s not like he’s not going to start practicing. It’s going to take some time."
Bryant's current contract expires after the 2013-14 season, and as Kupchak described, there have been no talks as of yet regarding an extension. But as far as Kupchak's concerned, Bryant isn't going anywhere.
"Kobe has made it clear that he intends to retire in a Lakers uniform, and I know as an organization, we feel the same way," Kupchak offered. "If you think for a second that Kobe can’t play at a high level or up to his expectations that he wants to continue to play, I don’t think that’s in his DNA. I think it makes sense for him and for us to get him back on the court, and to get a feel or a gauge of how much longer he wants to play and at what level."