The Lakers hopes for another playoff berth this season hinge on the health of Kobe Bryant and his surgically repaired Achilles’ tendon. That put a bit of a damper on the mood surrounding GM Mitch Kupchak on Wednesday while he addressed media at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo, California in the week leading up to the opening of training camp.
The Los Angeles Daily News‘ Mark Medina has more from the worried Lakers GM, who is concerned with Bryant pushing himself too hard. Kupchak even addressed that Vine video Mamba posted in which he’s jumping from a high dive; it was not the best idea from the franchise cornerstone while recuperating from the worst injury of his career.
“I do believe he’ll get back and he’ll play this season,” Kupchak said of Bryant. “You won’t be able to look at him and say he’s hurt.”
But Kupchak remains “concerned” about Bryant, 35, pushing himself too hard.
“I’m wondering at night if he’s going to a gym someday. He jumped off a diving board,” Kupchak said, referring to a video Bryant posted on Vine. “Not great judgment.”
Bryant is still running at just 75 percent on a weight-bearing treadmill, and no one in the Lakers brass — including Kupchak — has any idea if he’ll be ready to go in the season opener against the Clippers on October 29, or if he’ll participate in any of the eight preseason games leading up to the 2013-14 season.
With Bryant making over $30 million in the final year of the 3-year extension he signed in March of 2010, the decision to sign him to another extension has been put on hold while he recovers. The Lakers will have a lot of free cap space next summer in a loaded 2014 Draft and free agent class, but Bryant could stand to make even more on his next contract if he fails to take a pay cut. That extra money might allow the Lakers more financial stability under the more punitive measures of the new CBA, which imposes escalating luxury taxes, but Bryant and the Lakers have been mum about any figures for the next contract.
Kupchak declined addressing that issue, calling it “speculative” and “negotiating through the press.”
“Kobe has made it clear he intends to retire in a Laker uniform,” Kupchak said. “As an organization we feel the same way.”
While asking the Black Mamba to take a pay cut is one thing, asking him to adopt a more laissez-faire approach to the ball-dominating he’s done in the past, isn’t in the cards for the Lakers or Kupchak, despite what that might mean about luring potential free agents next summer.
“Kobe’s not going to play to lure somebody to Los Angeles,” Kupchak said. “He’s going to play to try to win games. If the way he plays helps lure players to Los Angeles, then so be it.”
Instead, Kupchak predicted Bryant deferring more out of physical necessity.
“He may decide to get players involved more and do things differently,” Kupchak said. “But if we’re down by two or down by three, the Kobe we know and love will take the last shot.”
That goes double with the coaching suggestions and advice Kobe offered on Twitter last season as he sat watching the Lakers get swept in the first round of the playoffs while recuperating from the Achilles’ surgery. It appears no coach can control the fickle Bryant, and Mitch echoed a sentiment long held by even casual Lakers observers.
“The best Mike can hope for is to get to know Kobe better and figure out a way to manage it as best he can,” Kupchak said. “No coach has been able to control Kobe.”
Mitch on Kobe: "No coach has been able to control Kobe. No coach we’ve had since 1996."
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) September 25, 2013
How the acrimonious Buss siblings in charge of the franchise —including Jeanie Buss‘ fiancé and Lakers consultant Phil Jackson — head coach Mike D’Antoni, Kupchak and others deal with this season’s ups and downs, rests heavily on Bryant. Whether the Achilles can handle that added weight is still anybody’s guess, but we’re about to find out as training camps open this weekend.
What do you think will happen with Bryant this season?
Follow Spencer on Twitter at @countcenci.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.