Return from injury to test Kobe's toughness, patience
LOS ANGELES - Kobe Bryant's fabled toughness will be tested this season as the 35-year-old NBA superstar bids to return from a devastating Achilles tendon injury.
Bryant won't be on the court with the Los Angeles Lakers when they launch their 2013-14 campaign against the LA Clippers on Tuesday.
It's not clear just when he will return or how he'll play once he is back after surgery in April to repair the ruptured tendon.
"It's the explosiveness," Bryant said in early October of what he's still lacking. "The explosiveness and the muscle endurance which takes a little time.
"I have to get my fat ass in shape, too," said Bryant, adding: "When I'm ready, I'm ready."
The uncertainty surrounding Bryant as he heads into his 18th NBA season no doubt accounts for the fact that the NBA's annual poll of its general managers named Bryant the second-best shooting guard in the league behind Houston's James Harden -- the first time in the poll's 12-year history that the "Black Mamba" didn't top the voting at the position.
It was one more knock, after ESPN ranked the Lakers as the 12th-best team in the Western Conference and Bryant as the 25th-best player.
Bryant quickly topped his Twitter profile with the number 1225, seen as defiant nod to ESPN's ratings.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni was confident that any perceived slight will only serve as fuel for Bryant's return.
"It's maybe just one more thing that pushes him," D'Antoni said. "But he doesn't really need it."
D'Antoni noted that the executives who did the voting would likely all jump at the chance to add Bryant to their teams.
"I'm sure 30 execs would get him in a second if they could get him," D'Antoni said.
Bryant did get the nod from the executives polled as the league's toughest player.
That toughness has backed up his skills for years as he played through and around injuries including a broken wrist, a torn ligament in his shooting wrist, a damaged index finger, a debilitating back injury, hip and elbow injuries, a troublesome right knee and too many sprained ankles to count.
For all the wear and tear he has endured, Bryant showed no sign that his game was diminished last season, when he averaged 27 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Bryant passed Wilt Chamberlain for fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list last season, and his efforts kept the slow-starting Lakers fighting for the playoffs.
When he returns, Bryant will have another batch of milestones in his sights. He'll need only 676 points to pass Michael Jordan for third on the all-time scoring list. He needs 113 assists to become just the 30th player in league history to reach 6,000.
Most importantly, Bryant will be eager to add to the five NBA titles he won in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010.
He insisted in June that the Lakers can contend, despite the departure of big man Dwight Howard for Houston.
With Howard gone and Bryant sidelined, it will be up to veteran point guard Steve Nash and center Pau Gasol to get the Lakers firing.
"I hear the critics (saying) everything is up in the air," Bryant said in June. "It may seem that way now, but the dust will settle. We'll have a team out there on the floor that's going to be a contender."
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