Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant Running 5-on-5, but Don't Get Excited Yet

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant participated in 5-on-5 drills during practice on Tuesday and appears close to returning to game action.

That fact alone shouldn't get fans too excited, at least not yet.

Even though it's an encouraging piece of news for everyone around the organization, it's still best to temper expectations. For one, Bryant still has more work to do in order to get game-ready and without a specific timetable, his return could still be weeks or even more than a month away.

What's more is that Bryant alone can't fix what ails the Lakers this season -- mediocrity. Los Angeles is handicapped with a roster featuring diminishing veteran stars like Pau Gasol and Steve Nash and younger unproven players like Nick Young, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and Jodie Meeks. A pair of Jordans -- Jordan Hill and Jordan Farmar -- have been bright spots at times, but there are plenty of holes.

The Lakers are treading water, and while they have at least a fighting chance at making the playoffs and turning a season with few prospects into an exciting one, the struggle they've gone through at this point is expected. Bryant will help even if he's less than 100 percent, but his impact will be marginal at first.

This season's potential success depends on which Kobe will return from a serious Achilles injury. The Lakers legend will suit up, and, by default, fans will expect him to be a world-beater right away. The reality is that not even Kobe himself knows what he'll be when he returns, and it's why he's been so noncommittal on his timetable for return.

Down, but not out

It would be foolish to completely rule out Bryant from having a major impact when he returns. In addition to providing inspiration to his teammates, he'll have his sights set on proving his doubters wrong and will outwork everyone. He's made a career out of it, and the results speak for themselves.

Chauncey Billups, a veteran who suffered the same Achilles injury during his stint with the Los Angeles Clippers, told Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News that Kobe would be fine and be able to do the things he normally does on the floor. That means that the Lakers shouldn't be brushed off as non-contenders from a playoffs standpoint as long as No. 24 is in uniform.

The questions remain: When will that be? And which incarnation of the Black Mamba will be wearing said uniform?

Billups' sentiment is one that everyone should take to heart. Don't count Kobe Bryant out, and when he returns, he'll be ready to lead.

Catch up with Michael C. Jones on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets -- he'll respond.

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.

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