EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Kobe Bryant realizes the challenges facing him and the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
As much as Bryant previously faced obstacles head-on and with grit exceeded by no current NBA player, the upcoming season presents one of the greatest challenges of his distinguished career.
Bryant was the center of attention Monday, addressing a large group of writers and broadcasters during a 10-minute session at the Lakers’ media day at the club’s headquarters.
The 36-year-old veteran held court on a variety of topics, his health and expectations for himself and the Lakers foremost among them.
“It was really a tough injury, I’m not going to lie,” Bryant said of the left knee fracture that sidelined him for 76 games last season. “Lot of things go through your mind when something like that happens. I just went on my grind and just kind of chipped away at it day-by-day, and I feel pretty good as a result.
“Our philosophy is to get better every day. I think when that happens, the results will come. I think proving people wrong will come, but our focus must be on ourselves. It’s a mixture of excitement, a mixture of a little nervousness, a little rage. It’s a mixture of a lot of things.”
Bryant will be counted on to lead a new mix of Lakers, who are coming off their worst season, 27-55, since the club moved to Los Angeles in 1960. Forward Carlos Boozer, point guard Jeremy Lin and rookie forward Julius Randle are among the new additions expected to improve on last season’s run of mediocrity. Getting point guard Steve Nash healthy wouldn’t hurt matters either.
“Our mission is just to get better every single day,” Bryant said. “Paying attention to the details. I figure if we do that, everything else will take care of itself. I think the motivator, at an individual level, (it) must start. So every individual must feel like they are maximizing their potential, and then maximizing their potential within the collective group. That’s gonna be a process.”
Bryant dismissed questions about whether he can still be the same player he was before injuries ended his last two seasons early.
“Whether I am or not, it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s where we go as a squad,” said Bryant, who has a career average of 25.5 points per game. “Offensively, I’m going to be fine, no matter what. I think defense and rebounding is where we really need to focus. I’ll be looking forward to how I move my feet defensively, staying in front of guys, chasing guys off of picks. Things like that.
“I think instinctively, we’ll all gravitate to what we do best on the basketball court, but our primary focus is to be great defensively. Trying to get better at it every single night. Personally, that’s really the biggest challenge because offensively I can always dictate what I’m going to do. Defensively, it’s reacting. That’s a challenge that I really haven’t had to deal with this summer. So, I’m looking forward to seeing that.”
On playing in his 19th season, Bryant said, “I see a lot of karma. Nineteen years coming in, you know what to expect. Actually, I didn’t know what to expect because I didn’t know when I would be able to come back and play. There were a lot of questions. Every day is kind of process in trying to figure out what you can and can’t do. Now there are a lot of questions, but they don’t center around health.”
New Lakers coach Byron Scott said he was blown away by Bryant’s recent workouts, in particular a pick-up game with teammates.
“He did better than I expected,” Scott said. “I know he hadn’t played ball in a long time. Even when he got out there, he said this was the first time I’ve played in what feels like a year. The way he played that day, I was shocked.
“Just the way he moved, the way he shot the ball, the way he posted up, rebounded, the way he passed it. He just played like he had been playing all summer long.”
“He’s on another level,” said the rookie out of the University of Kentucky. “He looked good. He played pick-up with us the other day. He looked amazing. Just how he’s moving, his conditioning and everything, it seems like it’s great, but also he’s just Kobe. Looks like he hasn’t lost a step. Can’t guard him. He just looks like Kobe.”
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