COMMENTARY | Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant is nearing his much-anticipated return to the court after missing more than a month of the 2013-14 season. Through the entire process, the Lakers have done the right thing by staying non-committal on his timetable for return.
It's in the best interest of everyone with Lakers ties to see Bryant back on the floor as quickly as possible, but it doesn't do anyone any good to stamp a date on his return and put pressure on both the player and team.
Role players' confidence
At 9-9 through 18 games this season, Los Angeles has managed to stay competitive thanks to its complement of motivated young players who are out to prove they can win games on their own.
Without the pressure of feeling like they need Bryant (though they absolutely do) to rescue them from certain doom, they've been loose, have played for one another, and managed to stay relevant in the difficult Western Conference.
Head coach Mike D'Antoni has done a respectable job at putting them in position to win games, despite the injuries to Bryant and Steve Nash. The Lakers' ability to tread water in their absence is in part due to the coaching staff having a full offseason program to install their system and integrate it with the new personnel.
But it's also because the Lakers have put them in position to play with confidence by avoiding any promises with respect to Bryant's injury.
Players like Nick Young, Xavier Henry and Shawne Williams have demonstrated an ability to come up with big plays in Kobe's absence. They're playing for their NBA futures, but there's been no selfishness in the way they've executed. The Lakers are ninth in total assists -- they're sharing the ball and taking good shots as evidenced by their No. 3 ranking in the league in 3-pointers made and third-best 41 percent mark from deep.
Young, in particular, has stepped up his game on the defensive end, taking a game-winning charge on the road against the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 29 to secure a successful road trip. He's been as attentive as he's ever been on that end of the floor while still scoring the basketball as he's always been capable.
Kobe calls the shots
Bryant isn't wired in such a way that he'll pare down his game when he returns, but there's an element of relief on him knowing that he doesn't need to be a world-beater as he gets back into basketball shape.
He's a freak of nature, but he's still human. Though he's worked as hard as anyone to this point, there will still be challenges ahead even after he returns. He'll have time to do that under these circumstances thanks to his teammates' play.
Without a timetable, that transition will be much smoother, and better yet for Bryant, he'll be able to dictate everything regarding his integration back onto the floor.
From a public relations standpoint, the Lakers did things the right way. Unlike the Chicago Bulls, who made a premature announcement that Derrick Rose was ready to return last season only to have him sit out its entirety, Los Angeles has been quiet and let Bryant speak for himself.
There are a lot of winners here. Bryant has rewarded everyone's patience by being transparent through the entire process. The NBA's reigning king of social media has used Facebook, Twitter and Instragram to document his recovery and give fans hints as to when he may be ready.
So far, that's been more than enough to keep Lakers fans satiated and away from clamoring for his swift return. There's been no frenzy, no circus. That's a welcome set of circumstances, especially in the wake of the Dwightmare of 2012-13.
It also has to do with the continuing theme of this season. The Lakers have no expectations. Coincidentally, neither does Bryant as he returns from a serious injury.
For any player, even a living legend like Kobe, that can make all the difference in the world.
Catch up with Michael C. Jones on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets.
Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist and was Yahoo's 2012 Contributor of the Year. He is the founding editor of Sports Out West and also contributes to SB Nation.
Statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.
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- Kobe Bryant