EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant thought back on his career and shook his head.
“It went by fast,” the Los Angeles Lakers star said at the team’s media day held at their practice facility Monday. “It went by fast.”
Bryant, entering his 20th NBA season, said he remains excited, maybe more so than some might expect entering a season in which his team is projected to miss the playoffs for the third straight season.
Yet it remains unclear how Bryant will play. The 37-year-old spent the offseason rehabbing from his third consecutive season-ending injury, this time a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder that ended his 2014-15 campaign after 35 games.
“I expect Kobe to play great,” said Byron Scott, now in his second year as head coach. “I expect him to be Kobe, but not to be the Kobe that we were so used to seeing maybe 10 years ago or five years ago. I just really got to watch the minutes and the workload that he has to take on a day-to-day basis.
“You’re not going to see Kobe jumping all over the rim like he used to do, you’re not going to see that type of athleticism. He’s still probably the smartest player in this league, he’ll still be able to get things done. But, like I said, I really got to micromanage those minutes, really watch him in practice. A lot of that, as we continue to talk, will be based on how he feels. Me and him, obviously, got to talk a lot during the season and during training camp and things like that.”
Scott said he is going to hard-cap Bryant's minutes and that it’s possible Bryant sits out some games to rest, including on back-to-backs.
Bryant said he doesn’t worry about managing his minutes.
“I don’t need to think about it,” he said. “You [media] can think about it for me.”
Or playing more small forward, a possibility Scott has mentioned before.
“I’ve been playing small forward for the past 10 years,” Bryant said. “The power forward thing would be different, but power forwards today are what 2-guards used to be in the ‘80s, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Bryant is more curious about the Lakers themselves -- a mix of veterans (Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams, Brandon Bass) and several promising young players (D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle).
"It's a big question mark. We have a lot of young guys," Bryant said. "It's a good mix, though. We have some veterans, as well, but guys who have never played together before.
"We've done the work to get to this point. Now it's trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together, so I'm not sure."
Is patience the key?
“It’s patience, but it’s an aggressive patience,” Bryant said. “You want to make sure that we’re pushing and pushing and pushing and trying to figure things out like yesterday so we can figure them out tomorrow.”
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said last week that he thinks Bryant will defer to young players only until Bryant believes he needs to take over games, and that Bryant could still be the team’s No. 1 option on offense this season.
When asked if he envisions his role changing, Bryant said, “Probably. It’s hard. I don’t know what to expect. My philosophy has always been: Whatever you are asked to do, try to be the best at doing it. Whatever the role, you’ve got to figure it out. Whatever it is, try to do it to the best of your ability.”
With so many key young players the Lakers must develop into the potential future core of the franchise, does Bryant now become more of a teacher and facilitator than their top option?
“I’m not really sure what that stuff means, honestly,” Bryant said. “I think a lot of that stuff is media conversation or debatable content. The reality is we’re all mentors, we’re all teachers in our own respects. Whether that means scoring a lot more or assisting a lot more -- whatever the case might be -- depends on the identity that the team takes on. It’s my responsibility to plug in those holes where we’re lacking.”
Bryant said he does like being around those young players. His locker will be next to rookie D’Angelo Russell’s, the No. 2 overall draft pick this summer.
“I don’t know how much longer he’s going to be around,” Russell said. “Just to get the opportunity to pick his brain a little bit, every day. I don’t have to make it weird by walking to his locker. I can look to my right.”
Bryant said he is optimistic about the rookie guard, who was 8 months, 11 days old when Bryant made his NBA debut.
“I think he has a good head on his shoulders,” Bryant said. “I think he has a lot of ambition and wants to be great. It starts there. Really, my responsibility is going to help him just to not lose sight of what’s most important, which is the game. That’s the heart of it all when you’re playing in this market with a lot of the distractions, a lot of criticism and critiques that may come his way throughout the course of the year. It doesn’t matter. Just focus on what you’re here to do and what got you here and that’s playing a game.”
Still, Bryant did say that he can’t remember entering a season in which there was so much uncertainty. How will he define a successful season?
“It’s wins and losses, but it’s also what we’re learning, what we’re grasping,” Bryant said. “Health is a big one. Last [two] years, we’ve been decimated by injuries. Knock on wood, that’s not a problem that we have to worry about.”
Especially after last season, when he was sidelined in January and the Lakers went on to finish with a franchise-worst 21-61 record.
“It wasn’t as bad as the Achilles,” Bryant said, referencing his 2013 injury, when he tore that tendon. “So when I have rough days, I can always kind of look back and remember what that summer was like, what that year and a half was like. It puts it in perspective for me.”