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Kobe Bryant has been cleared to resume all basketball activities, which may not mean much

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

Kobe Bryant's journey to recovery.

Kobe Bryant's journey to recovery.

For months, Los Angeles Lakers fans and NBA diehards have waited for the return of league icon Kobe Bryant. Ever since Bryant tore his Achilles tendon on the final weekend of the regular season last April, every update to his rehab has registered as a notable news story, from the most optimistic estimates to more sobering notes on the difficulties of coming back from this injury.

[Photos: Kobe Bryant documents his ankle recovery on social media]

In the past few days, we finally received some tangible positive news about Kobe's recovery. As reported by Yahoo's own Adrian Wojnarowski this weekend, Kobe returned to Lakers practice on Saturday. According to Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report, Bryant has also been cleared for all basketball activities. From the Lakers.com confirmation of that news:

As reported by Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding, Bryant has no restrictions on his continued progress in his rehabilitation from the torn left Achilles tendon suffered seven months ago.

Bryant made his much-anticipated return to practice on Saturday, where he went through 5-on-0 drills and did some half court drills with his teammates.

“He looked real good," said Jordan Hill of Bryant at practice after his own career-high game against Detroit. "He was going real hard. I thought he wasn’t going to be able to go that hard but he was really pushing it. And, I know he’s not ready yet but he’s coming along and he should be ready pretty soon.”

Yet, as Ding noted in his own report, it's also unclear as to when Kobe will actually play in a Lakers game:

Even with full clearance, though, Bryant is not expected to jump right back into game action Friday night against Golden State or even the next week of Thanksgiving. Bryant wants to test his ankle joint and see how it responds, which he will get to on an initial basis with full-scale team practices set for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

In testing himself, Bryant intends to be thorough. That’s why he surprised teammates by how driven he was in that team workout on a quiet Saturday meant to be a light day in the gym for the Lakers. [...]

The Dec. 6 game in Sacramento at one of Bryant’s favorite venues might serve as a logical date because the Lakers have no games scheduled Dec. 2-5, meaning Bryant could gain clarity in his mind during practices that week that his left ankle is completely ready and the right knee he treated in Germany last month is also primed.

The Lakers will not have much team practice at all next week, when they have three road games in four nights at Washington, Brooklyn and Detroit. They play at home against Portland on Dec. 1.

[Photos: Athletes who own sports franchises]

In other words, the meaning of "full clearance" is vague. The term suggests complete health and an ability to play as soon as possible. Of course, as Derrick Rose's recovery schedule last season proved all too well, medical clearance does not always lead to comfort on the floor and a swift return to more strenuous action. As Woj explained on Saturday, Bryant has always hoped to return to games within a few weeks of his first practice, and this news doesn't change that timetable at all.

It might be more useful, then, to think of this "full clearance" as just another station on Kobe's rehab path, one closer to the destination but not terribly different from carrying his full weight on an anti-gravity treadmill or even taking his first post-surgery steps. At every point of this process, Bryant has had to assess his readiness — every new estimate for his return date is contingent on a host of assumptions about what might come next.

The only thing that's different now, really, is that Kobe has inched close enough to that endpoint that fewer things can now go wrong. We're close to seeing him back in an NBA game, but the essential character of his rehab process hasn't changed. We won't know he's ready to play until he's on the court.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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