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Kobe Bryant on Carmelo Anthony’s Talent and Future

Kobe Bryant opened up about Carmelo Anthony’s 62-point game, free agency and place among the league’s superstars.

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With the Los Angeles Lakers having won just four of their last 19 games, Laker Nation is anxiously awaiting the return of Kobe Bryant. Bryant has been out of the lineup since fracturing the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee back on December 17, but the shooting guard is inching closer to a return.

Addressing the media in New York on Sunday, Bryant refused to put a timetable on his exact return date, but he will be reevaluated upon the team’s return to Los Angeles.

One thing Bryant was not tight-lipped on, though, was Carmelo Anthony. New York City is still abuzz over Anthony’s epic performance on Friday night, when he turned in a 62-point effort on 23-for-35 shooting. Aside from being Anthony’s career-best scoring night, it was also the night that Bryant became second to Anthony, at least in one regard.

On February 2, 2009, Bryant set the Madison Square Garden scoring record when he amassed 61 points in a 126-117 win over the Knicks. Two nights ago, Anthony broke that record.

“I got a lot of messages from people saying, ‘Melo is going after your record tonight,'” Bryant said. “It’s amazing. He just went to work. He got hot and didn’t cool off. I called him that same night just to congratulate him.”

“I thought if I was a competitor I would say that Melo has more opportunities to set the Garden record than I did but I’m not a competitor so I won’t say that,” Bryant joked.

Ironically, Bryant and his Lakers were the first team to battle the Knicks following Anthony’s record-breaking performance, and Bryant spoke at length on Anthony performance, as well as his upcoming free agency and the small forward’s place among other superstars in today’s NBA.

“He’s a great player just like the rest of them,” Bryant said of Anthony. “He’s on the upper tier of players. It’s tough for players because a lot of times, you’re really subject to the culture around you in terms of the players that are around you. We’ve seen it in players from the past, whether it’s Dominque Wilkins or Bernard King.”

Wilkins and King are regarded as two of the game’s best scorers, but neither was able to win a championship. Bryant understands that better than most, as he himself came under criticism in the aftermath of Shaquille O’Neal’s departure from Los Angeles.

“The only way to do that is to win,” Bryant said when asked how Anthony could shake his reputation of merely being a scorer, and not necessarily a good all-around basketball player. “I won five championships and there are some of you that still say that, so you kinda just take it and roll with it. The most important thing is to win a championship and that’s the only way to shake it the way Michael [Jordan] shook it. That’s the only way any player can shake it.”

The Lakers will be one of the few teams this offseason that can offer both Anthony a maximum, four-year contract and the big market that he is believed to cherish, but Bryant does not necessarily believe that Anthony is bound for the Lakers. According to Bryant, reports of Anthony potentially being interested in relocating to Southern California are no surprise.

“Everybody wants to play in Los Angeles,” Bryant said with a chuckle. “I mean, New York’s a beautiful place, but don’t get me wrong, it’s colder than shit out here. Palm trees and beaches, obviously, are a little more appealing. But all jokes aside, I think that players, when that time comes, will have to make the best decision for them and their families. If he wants to call me for advice, later, as a friend, I’ll be more than happy to give it to him.”

Bryant has been sidelined since December 17 when he broke a bone in his left knee and was expected to be sidelined for about six weeks. With January 28 marking the six-week mark since sustaining the injury, Bryant is believed to be close to returning, but will be reevaluated upon the Lakers’ return to Los Angeles. Coach Mike D’Antoni believes that Bryant will return before the All-Star break, and that is good news for everyone involved.

The Lakers are just 4-15 since Bryant went down and are currently 13th in the Western Conference.

“It’s frustrating, it’s very tough,” Bryant told ABC on Sunday while his Lakers were battling the Knicks. “This is about being a group and being together.”

Bryant has been limited to riding a stationary bike and is looking forward to beginning on court work. As for when that may be, he is uncertain.

“When we get back to Los Angeles, I’ll have another check up with the doctor and get his recommendation,” Bryant told ABC.

And as for whether he will return in one, two or three weeks?

“I don’t know,” Bryant said. “We’ll have to wait and see what [the doctor] says.”

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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