Kobe Bryant ahead of schedule

The Los Angeles Lakers not only expect Kobe Bryant to be back by the start of the regular season but believe he could be back by the preseason.

Lakers vice president Jim Buss told NBA TV on Thursday that Bryant is ahead of schedule in his recovery from the torn Achilles tendon he suffered in April. Buss expects Bryant to play in a preseason game.

"Well, we're in Vegas, and I would bet a lot of money that this guy comes back probably in preseason," Buss said during the Lakers-Milwaukee Bucks game at the Las Vegas Summer League. "He's real sharp in taking care of himself and he's not going to rush anything just to get back and prove a point. He's going to come back when he's right. He's a machine. He's inhuman. I see him coming back at the beginning of this season. I can't believe how much he's progressed so far."

Bryant previously had said he was ahead of schedule and would begin getting more active in his rehabilitation next month heading into training camp, which begins in October. The initial timetable for his recovery was six to nine months, and six months would have Bryant back sometime during training camp.

When Bryant does come back, he will be returning to a Lakers team without Dwight Howard, after the Lakers' pursuit of the All-Star center fell short when he decided to sign with the Houston Rockets.

Buss said Howard's decision will not set the Lakers back for long and the focus has quickly shifted toward making a big splash in free agency next summer.

"When we traded for him, we basically knew we were renting him for a year," Buss said. "We were prepared. [Lakers general manager] Mitch [Kupchak] and I, we had quite a few meetings. If he leaves, this is what's going to happen, this is what we're going to do, and if he stays, this is what's going to happen, this is what we're going to do. It's not like I didn't want him to stay, but we were very prepared, so it wasn't a shock to our system or the Lakers' fans or the Lakers' organization that if he left, he would put us in a bad spot. We were OK either way, because we prepared for it."