Kobe still targets return this season

LOS ANGELES -- Despite continuing to be sidelined with a left knee injury and seeing his team continue to fall further out of the playoff picture, Kobe Bryant remains steadfast in his intention to return to the court this season.

"My plan hasn't changed," Bryant said Sunday at an event to promote his newest signature sneaker, the Nike Kobe 9 Elite Masterpiece. "I'm just going about it every single day just trying to get better. That's my job. My job is to get my butt back out there on the court when I'm healthy enough to play and that hasn't changed."

Bryant, out since Dec. 17 with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee and averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.5 percent shooting this season, has missed the Lakers' last 26 games. He missed the Lakers' first 19 games this season because of a torn Achilles in his left leg.

The 18-year veteran is scheduled to be re-evaluated after the All-Star Game next week, but wouldn't venture a guess as to when he could actually return to game action.

"That I don't know," Bryant said. "It's completely out of my control. I really got to sit here and just wait until this thing heals up and then go out there and do what I do."

He reiterated his confidence that he would not miss the rest of the 2013-14 season, however.

When asked what his best-case scenario would be upon a return this season, Bryant replied: "Play like me. That's it."

Bryant stayed back in Los Angeles to rehabilitate last week while the Lakers went 2-1 on their road trip through Minnesota, Cleveland and Philadelphia. He could only watch on his television as the Lakers' roster was pared down to four eligible players against the Cavaliers.

"The last week's been horrible," Bryant said. "That Cleveland game, it was crazy. And then [Chris] Kaman goes to sleep on the bench, it's like when big brother is not around, you start doing crazy [stuff]. So, it's been rough. It's been rough. But I've been just riding the bike, trying to stay active, stay in shape, spend a lot of time with my family -- which really helps to kind of balance it out. But I hate not being there with the guys and watching them going through that period that they're going through. It's very, very tough. I just try to be patient."

Bryant said last month when the team was in Miami that his Achilles "feels great," nearly 10 months removed from surgery, but that doesn't mean he isn't reminded of the injury regularly.

"Everywhere I go," Bryant said. "I didn't know that so many people have ruptured Achilles. I meet like five people a day, it seems."

Bryant then admitted how tough it was to overcome. The same injury ended the careers of all-time greats such as Isiah Thomas, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal before him, while significantly slowing down others such as Chauncey Billups and Elton Brand.

"It's the worst," Bryant said. "It's the worst injury to get."

Leading up to the Kobe 9 debut, Bryant and Nike re-released the eight signature shoes in his line with Bryant choosing a theme to inspire the colorway of the sneaker. For instance, the theme of his Kobe III shoe -- the one he wore when the Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 Finals in blowout fashion -- was "misery" and is black with splotches of blood red and deep purples.

Bryant was asked what the theme of his sneaker to represent this season would be.

"Absence," Bryant said. "I'd probably make this shoe completely transparent. I would make the shoe completely transparent in so many ways because there's a vulnerability that comes with being injured. So, you really have to open yourself up to people and let them kind of see what you've been going through. At the same time, I've missed so many damn games, just the absence of it."