Could a rehabbing Kobe Bryant play if there were a playoffs game today? Kobe: ‘Probably’

In the day directly following the six-month anniversary of his Achilles tendon tear, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant did the Kobe Bryant Thing in talking with media before a Lakers exhibition practice in Beijing. Bryant, whose initial recovery time was slated to take six-to-nine months, clearly wants Lakers fans to understand that he is well on his way, and were the schedule to produce a game of actual import, he’d be out there dragging his leg around.

Because these are things that Kobe Bryant usually says. From Kevin Ding at Bleacher Report:

In the land where they worship him for his work ethic, Kobe Bryant said Monday that the long rehabilitation from his Achilles tendon tear has reached the point where “if today was a playoff or NBA Finals [game], could I play? Probably.”


Asked if he thinks about the Achilles during workouts, Bryant said: “I haven't had any pain or any soreness whatsoever. It's kind of a flexibility thing, and getting the range of motion back—feel like you can bend without having to lift the heel up. After months of the tendon being compressed, now you have to work to stretch it out a little bit.”

A lack of pain and soreness combined with an inability to utilize his foot, ankle and heel in the wake of six months of recovery is par for the course for an Achilles tear. This, in spite of Bryant mentioning during the offseason that he “shattered” the initial recovery stages for the injury.

That “shattered’ quote was Kobe was referring to the parts of recovery that just allow him to get up and walk around without crutches. The second half of that return is far more crucial, and telling, and those are just the months needed to make it back to typical practice. It should have been good news for Lakers fans to hear that Bryant was diligently going about an exacting rehabilitation process, as detailed by Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, working hard but also working slowly and intelligently while returning from the first major tear of his career.

First major tear, to be sure, but hardly his first major injury. Bryant has been rightfully lauded through the years for playing through crippling knee woes and incredibly painful finger injuries, while hardly making a peep to the media about what he was enduring. It’s that history that, almost by the time Bryant was finished limping off the floor against the Golden State Warriors last April, had NBA observers just assuming Bryant was going to play through pain again, and return in record time in 2013-14.

The distinction here is that, as Bryant noted, he wouldn’t be playing through pain if the Lakers were suiting up for a Game 7 this week. He’d be working with an unfamiliar wheel, one that at times would let him down as it regains strength and flexibility, playing at a guard position that demands quick cuts and constant movement. All that, on top of his, erm, misgivings about his current conditioning.

Again, all of this should be good news to Lakers fans. Bryant is going to come back when he’s ready and comfortable, and with 15 days left between now and the Lakers’ first game, and with Kobe yet to participate in any Los Angeles practices, this may not be for a little while. Yes, there’s a “six” in that “six-to-nine month recovery” description, but there’s also a “nine.”

And this is all on top of a current Laker scheme that has the franchise attempting to make big noise during the 2014 offseason, which would then provide Kobe with a team that he could see himself playing deep into the playoffs with some 20 months from now. The Oct. 29 tip-off against the Clippers, two weeks from now, means far, far less than significant playoff games with his next batch of helpers in June of 2015.

Bryant has proven, through the years, to be able to overcome just about anything in order to play in postseason contests. Good thing the NBA playoffs don’t start in October, because Kobe isn’t ready yet. Because he’s human.