NEW ORLEANS – Injured Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant's "slow process" has left it uncertain when he will return this season.
Bryant, who missed the first 19 games of the campaign recovering from an Achilles tendon injury suffered late last season, sustained a fracture of the tibial plateau in his left knee on Dec. 17 that has limited him to six games so far.
"It's coming slowly. It's coming slowly," said the 16-time time All-Star, who was voted as a Western Conference starter for Sunday's game but was relegated to being a bystander. "I'm optimistic coming out of the break that I will have some improvements, once I get back to L.A. and do a couple follow ups and then go from there. But it's been a slow process."
The struggling Lakers are tied with the Kings for the Western Conference's worst record at 18-35 after losing eight of their past 10 games. Continued struggles by the Lakers could bring one reward in a high first-round pick in the heralded 2014 NBA draft. Bryant, who has signed a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension, expressed strong confidence that the Lakers will improve the team in the offseason.
Bryant has previously been adamant about his plans on returning this season, but when pressed twice Sunday, the most the 35-year-old would reveal is an acknowledgement that he is still hopeful.
"Well, I just stick to the script," Bryant said. "Just try to get better and then go from there. I just try to focus, keep my blinders on and just do what I have to do and not worry too much about what's going on around you, but just stay focused on what my responsibilities are."
Bryant, who also missed the 2010 All-Star Game because of injury, received 988,884 votes from the fans to land a starting Western Conference guard spot. He was replaced on the roster by Pelicans forward-center Anthony Davis and in the starting lineup by Rockets guard James Harden.
Bryant also expressed hope that this won't be his last chance to play in an All-Star Game.
"When you play in an All Star Game, that means you're one of the best players in the world. So it's obviously a big goal of mine to be there," Bryant said. "But it's tough coming here though, because normally when you come, the competitive juices are already flowing, now it's kind of looking at it from a different perspective, but you also get a chance to soak it all in a little bit more and kind of sit back and watch and observe, which has it its own fun element to it."
Bryant was also asked if he felt his body was giving out on him. The answer was yes.
"That's part of the excitement of the challenge, that level of uncertainty… are my best days behind me sort of thing," Bryant said. "And to have those conversations with yourself and not be intimidated by that and not be – not succumbing to that is part of the challenge.
"It's really the biggest challenge is saying, well, maybe this is the end, but then again, maybe it's not. And it is my responsibility to do all that I can to make sure that it's not. So that's really become the biggest challenge."
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