Lakers won't rule out Kobe Bryant's return for start of 2013-14 season

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LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant is expected to be sidelined for six to nine months after rupturing his Achilles tendon, though the Los Angeles Lakers aren't ruling out his return for the start of next season, team officials said.

Bryant underwent successful surgery on Saturday after suffering the season-ending injury late in the Lakers' victory over the Golden State Warriors on Friday night. He was in much better spirits, even live-tweeting photos of his MRI and pre-surgery preparation.

Bryant tore his left Achilles tendon when he was trying to drive against Warriors forward Harrison Barnes. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said the injury was a complete rupture and Bryant will need to keep his foot immobilized for a month.

If Bryant, 34, needs only the minimum six months in the team's timeline, he could conceivably return midway through training camp. Bryant vowed Friday night he will not let the injury end his career. The 2013-14 season is the final on Bryant's contract with the Lakers.

Vitti and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said they're optimistic Bryant could be ready for the first game next season, which is typically around Halloween.

[Related: Devastating injury ends Kobe Bryant's season, puts career in peril]

"I told him last night that, 'This is another challenge in your life. The game of basketball comes too easy for you. You need these things,' " Vitti said. "The best thing you can do for us as media is say things like he can't do it. That will force him to do it.

"He is always ready taking the challenge. …[The challenge] for us is going to be trying to keep him down, slow him down."

Kupchak visited Bryant at the hospital Saturday morning before the surgery.

Bryant averaged 27.3 points, six assists and 5.6 rebounds this season and will be replaced in the starting lineup by Jodie Meeks. The Lakers are fighting with the Utah Jazz to land the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. Los Angeles plays host to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.

"He actually gave me a message to pass on to the team, most of which I can't share with you all here," Kupchak said. "But it was a positive message as you might imagine, very motivational. His spirits were good.

[Related: Kobe Bryant vents about injury on Facebook]

"He was remarkably different than last night. His eyes were red and he looked a little bit downtrodden last night. I thought he was pretty good [Saturday] and ready for the surgery. He's proactive in all ways. I wouldn't expect him to wait a week or two. And certainly last night when I got the phone call that he wanted to have it today I wasn't surprised."

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