Stretching the Field: Beware the Black Mamba

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Updated: 12/06/2013 1:35 pm

(SportsNetwork.com) - If Kobe Bryant has LL Cool J in his Ipod, then the classic hit "Mama Said Knock You Out" can be found with a quick scroll.

The opening lyrics are "Don't call it a comeback, I been here for years," an applicable phrase for the future Hall of Famer's upcoming 2013-14 debut.

Bryant has been in the league since 1996, so to call his inevitable return a "comeback" seems silly. Yes, the five-time NBA champion hasn't played this season to recover from Achilles tendon surgery last April, but by no means is Bryant rising from the ashes.

To say Bryant is a confident man would be an understatement. He's one of the best ever to cross over a defender, penetrate the lane or leave an opponent in angst after knocking down his classic fade-away jumper. Those memories were put on pause when Bryant tore his left Achilles tendon and hobbled off the court toward months of excessive rehabilitation.

Not a stranger to injuries throughout his career, Bryant, who sports a lengthy scar on the lower part of his left leg as a reminder he's still human, is nearing a return to the sport he has dominated pretty much his entire career. He did not travel with the Los Angeles Lakers for Friday's matchup at what he described as "lovely Sacramento" and could possibly join his teammates for Sunday's home game versus the Toronto Raptors.

But it's still up in the air.

Bryant has been practicing with a Lakers team he deems as young, energetic, athletic and competitive; adjectives that would define to a tee the one who goes by the moniker Black Mamba. Bryant has been using his gifted ability to push through rigorous workout sessions to improve range of motion, endurance, and change of direction.

Bryant said this week his change of gear isn't quite there yet and needs to break up scar tissue after being restricted and immobile for months following the procedure. His main concern is actually not the Achilles, but the range of motion in his ankle joint. Movement, manual therapy and mobilizations are some of the strenuous techniques Bryant is using to get back into playing shape.

"My range of motion is a lot better where it's not after the first day or so, or the last time I practiced, where my range of motion became restricted," Bryant said. "It became kind of locked up and I wasn't able to run, change directions or sprint like I wanted to. I don't feel like I have any limitations, really. The change of gear is not where I want it to be, but it's easy to compensate and go out there and be effective."

Bryant, who recently signed a two-year extension worth $48.5 million and introduced a new shoe by Nike, was asked about his explosiveness and he quickly shot down that notion, saying he's not "jumping through the gym" and doesn't need that to be a great player. Bryant does, however, believe he will be limited in some capacity minutes-wise when he comes back.

When that happens Bryant will be wearing the Kobe Elite 9 shoe, which has nine little red lines on the back of the high-top to represent his stitches.

"It's a symbol of the story we're trying to tell," Bryant told ESPN.com. "It's a constant reminder of where I came from. From that night after I hurt myself and I expressed my anger in my Facebook rant to the state I'm in now, I wanted something I could draw inspiration from. Everyone doubts I can come back and do it again and here I am."

Bryant was asked after a practice session if he misses the competition.

"I miss it a lot. It's fun getting out there and playing, and going up and down, and challenging, winning and losing and bouncing back. That's fun stuff," Bryant said.

The Lakers have been competitive to the tune of a 9-9 record and have won five of their last seven games behind Pau Gasol, Nick Young, Jodie Meeks and Wesley Johnson. If Bryant plays Sunday it will be the first of two straight at Staples Center before Los Angeles hits the road to Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Atlanta and Memphis.

Bryant has been impressed with the leadership role Gasol inherited during his absence, but is instilling his insight as well.

"My job has always been to challenge and to push and to elevate kind of the competitive spirit of the team," Bryant said. "I've always been kind of lurking in the background, cracking the whip from a distance."

Before Bryant can crack the whip from close proximity, he has to make sure the leg is ready to go. Being smart and knowing when to crank it up and tone it down will be crucial over the next few days for Bryant, who wouldn't be disappointed if he has to take a step back. Remember, the Lakers have invested plenty of scratch and perhaps hampered their future with Bryant's new deal.

Bryant has been running and lifting weights outside of practice time to get his legs underneath him.

"I test it. I push it really hard," Bryant said. "My sea legs aren't there yet. The pull up jump shots and the fadeaways, my sea legs aren't quite there yet to be able to do that."

Another concern for Bryant is the risk of injury to other parts of his body after nursing one particular area for so long. But then again that's why the Lakers have been bringing him along slowly.

Bryant, one of the NBA's darlings and top jersey seller, has the time to put in more sessions before entering the spotlight again.

Whether it's this Sunday versus the Raptors or later next week, the Black Mamba will soon be ready to commence his 18th season.

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