Kobe Bryant put together one of his better statistical all-around years in his 17th season, averaging 27.3 points (third in the NBA), 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds on 46.3 percent shooting. He appeared in 78 games, missing two because of a sprained ankle and the final two of the regular season, plus the playoffs, after tearing his Achilles tendon against Golden State on April 12.
He underwent surgery the following day, the expected timetable recovery being six to nine months. The plan, according to Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, is for Bryant to be ready by the beginning of next season.
Below is a summary of his exit interview:
- On why he’s so confident he can be healthy and fully recovered from his Achilles injury in time for the beginning of next season: “The staff we have here, the technology we have available and the understanding of this injury.” Bryant was recommended to have surgery the next day to eliminate the possibility of scar tissue developing and for less swelling. “For me, I’m willing to work and be patient. Those things together and I’m confident I can be ready for next season.” It’s definitely Kobe’s plan to be ready for the start of next season, but he acknowledged that he’ll simply have to see how rehabilitation goes.
- On how he’s feeling right now: “I’m moving a lot faster than I was. It’s a sneaky injury in the sense I don’t feel any pain, no stiffness or any of that. It’s one of those injuries where you keep it in the front of your mind at all times.”
- On if he can look at this season and take any positives away, despite all the adversity the club faced: “If we can gain something positive from this season, it’s (getting) most of the guys back. When you go from a year like this – five games out of the playoffs and then making the No. 7 seed – it does something for the group. It builds character. To allow that to dissipate and do that again with another group, it’s a headache.” Bryant believes the team as currently constructed, providing everybody is healthy next season, can win a championship. He stated the team understood how tough it would be to gain an understanding for one another, but injuries wouldn’t allow for their core group to be on the floor together. “We understood, but we didn’t have a chance to develop it because of injury after injury after injury. It was crazy. It was a constant process for us, but we finally figured it out. It’s great to bring the group back because we know what to do, and we know how lethal we can be.”
- Bryant recognizes that the team needs to add length and speed. “Some athleticism that can offset some of the deficiencies we have. If we can figure out a way to bring some of that length and athleticism, things will be (good).”
- On all the support from the fans during this time, what it means personally to him: “It drives me. It gives me more fuel and more focus to have that support. They believe in me. I take that and I wear that as a badge of honor not to disappoint them.”
- On how long he will continue to play in the league: “I don’t know. The Achilles (injury) kind of threw me a curveball, so I have to think about this.”
- On how he feels about Pau Gasol and whether or not Gasol will be a Laker next season: “I was pretty clear when I met with Mitch (Kupchak). I want him here. He gives us the best chance to win titles. You bring Dwight (Howard) back, then we’re off and running. You saw how well they played together (at the end of the season). That puzzle finally got solved.” Bryant acknowledged that coach Mike D’Antoni made a lot of adjustments during the season to better utilize Gasol, placing him near the elbow and in the post to make plays for his teammates.
- On playing with Steve Nash this year and what, if anything, he learned from him: “It was great to see him work every day, to go through his progressions, how he thinks the game from behind the scenes. (I thought), ‘Oh damn, if I knew that, maybe we could have beaten (Phoenix in the playoffs).’ But you get a chance to see his greatness because he’s extremely intelligent. His work ethic is unbelievable.” For Bryant to praise someone ELSE’S work ethic is definitely something to take seriously. They’re two peas in a pod along those lines.
- On Dwight Howard’s injury situation last year and the current circumstances he is in now trying to recover from surgery: “He went through a situation with back surgery where he was all by himself. He sees that and he doesn’t want me to experience the same thing he experienced. Our bond grew a lot.” Bryant appreciated that Howard visited him at his Orange County home after surgery: “It shows through adversity your bond can become stronger. The support for each other really shined through. That’s why I would love for this group to come back and get another crack at it.”
- With Howard set to be a free agent, Bryant stated he “hopes” the big man returns to L.A next season: “It’s just a matter of what he feels in his heart what and he wants to do. He’s reached a crossroads at his career and I think L.A. is the perfect spot for him to assert himself and have his career take off.” With Howard trying to play his way back into game shape after offseason back surgery, Bryant stated his play in the second half of the year was “impressive.”