Kobe Bryant should be back on the floor soon for the Los Angeles Lakers, that much is certain, and when he makes his season debut he will be $48.5 million richer. But how long will basketball fans have to wait for watch the future Hall of Famer again? Well, that question remains unclear.
"I feel good. I'm feeling much, much stronger and I'm ready to come back soon," Bryant said at a press conference Tuesday.
"Soon." That word holds so much ambiguity when it comes out of the 35-year-old's mouth. Soon could be as early as Wednesday when the Lakers travel to face the struggling Brooklyn Nets.
But such a quick comeback seems unlikely. Bryant said he still needs more reps in practice until he's fully comfortable. He said he wanted to test some of his limitations during his first few practices back and see if they're still persistent.
Some players never return to their athletic peak from an Achilles injury. Bryant is no fool. For him there are two routes of preparation. The first is if he is able to recover the explosiveness he had last year, the second is if he isn't.
"If (my explosiveness) is not there, I'm ready to adapt. I'm ready to change that and slow the tempo down and change up the rhythm a little bit. Go to more of a bump game... so I'm willing and ready to adapt to whatever my body is telling me."
Bryant said he was "comfortable" with coming back to limited minutes. In fact, that might serve as the ideal situation for a 35-year-old man coming off Achilles surgery who has played over 1,200 NBA games.
"The goal is to win a championship, put ourselves in a position--we can win a championship, I feel like we have some really good pieces. Guys who are really competitive and athletic and have the energy to carry a game," Bryant said. "And I think they've been showing that, particularly the last three games. So if I can come back and keep my minutes to a minimum, that would be perfect."
The cloudiness around Bryant's return is part of the reason there is so much controversy surrounding his new two-year, $48.5 million contract. Some of that money is from the value that Bryant has brought to the Lakers organization over the last 17 years, and some of it is, what Bryant called, a "leap of faith" by the Lakers that he will be worth the money when he returns to the floor.
"It makes me want to run through a wall for them," Bryant said. "It kind of just adds more fuel to the fire. To, kind of, come out and prove to everybody that they were right and everybody else was wrong."
Bryant was asked whether this would be his last contract. He only needed one word to answer. "Probably."
There's that ambiguity, again. There's the Kobe we've come to know.
Audio via Thomas Pruitt of Bullets Forever: