Kobe Bryant says he will not return Friday vs. Kings, could play Sunday vs. Raptors

Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant is very close to returning to the NBA. However, it looks like we'll have to wait a few more days to see one of the league's most important players back in action.

As reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Bryant has ruled himself out of Friday night's road game against the Sacramento Kings (via EOB):

Kobe Bryant has ruled himself out for the Los Angeles Lakers' game at the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, the 18-year veteran told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Wednesday.

But after two consecutive days of practices, Bryant did say he is moving into game-to-game territory when considering his long-awaited comeback from Achilles surgery. That means playing in the Lakers' home game against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday is still a possibility.

"It feels that way," Bryant said at the launch event for his new Nike "Kobe 9" signature sneaker at the MOCA in downtown Los Angeles. "It feels pretty good. This is the second day now that I've been able to get out there and move around and play and play pretty well, and it felt like I could do anything that I wanted to do out there on the floor, so we progress to [Thursday]. On to tomorrow. Let's see if I can go three days straight and then have another hard workout on Friday and kind of measure it accordingly."

Bryant, 35, said the final hurdle he has to clear in his training is combining his conditioning with basketball-related activities.

"Just running into the shooting," Bryant said. "Because, it's one thing to be out on the track all day and run. It's another thing to run, jump, change directions, now gather your legs for a shot. You still kind of feel like you get those 'Bambi' legs and that sort of thing. But, the Achilles feels pretty good. Other than that, you're just dealing with the typical things that a player playing 18 years is going to deal with -- just it's sore here, sore there."

Since being cleared to resume basketball activities in mid-November, Kobe has practiced with the Lakers and slowly worked his way close to in-game availability. There had been hope that he could play on Friday, based on recent progression and sheer optimism related to seeing a superstar back on the court, but Bryant has exercised understandable care in making sure he doesn't return to the Lakers lineup too soon.

Nevertheless, he's getting there. Earlier Wednesday, the Lakers posted this video of Bryant completing a breakaway dunk during practice:

Although Kobe (presumably jokingly) refers to that finish as "a really strong layup" in his comments to McMenamin, this play suggests Kobe is very, very close to playing in a real-life game. We'll see him soon enough, even if it requires waiting a little longer than hoped.

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Eric Freeman

is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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