Kobe's return remains a mystery

Kobe Bryant, meeting with reporters Thursday for the first time since the Los Angeles Lakers returned from their preseason trip to China last week, remained mum on his return to the court with the team's regular season set to tip off Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

"I was cranking it up the entire time I was in China," said Bryant, wearing a pressurized ice wrap on his surgically repaired left Achilles. "I've scaled back since, just to let it heal up a little bit more and get a little bit more flexibility to it. But it feels good just to run and break a sweat by running."

What doesn't feel so good for Bryant is hearing the speculation swirling around his status and not being able to do anything about it.

"It can get to you a little bit and it will make you a little impatient, especially when you hear the doubt and, 'Will I be able to come back?'" Bryant said. "Well, it's not even, 'Will I be able to come back and play well?' It's more like, 'I won't be able to come back and play well.' And when you hear those things, you want to push and come back and play right away to shut a lot of people up, but you have to be patient, you have to rest and relax and come back when you're ready."

Bryant's chance of success this season was doubted in ESPN.com's NBA Player Rankings and NBA.com's general managers survey. Bryant recently changed his Twitter avatar to the number sequence "1225," presumably referencing the ESPN.com NBA Summer Forecast that predicted the Lakers would finish 12th in the Western Conference and had his personal ranking at No. 25 after it was No. 6 a year ago.

Bryant, though, wouldn't say the avatar had anything to do with that.

"No, it's my pet's birthday," he said.

While Bryant, 35, certainly has noticed what has been said about him, he said he already has enough fueling him as he prepares to enter his 18th NBA season.

"I certainly don't [need any more motivation]," Bryant said. "The motivation's always been there for me because it's always come from inside of me, the motivation. The external stuff is kind of like the cherry on top of the cake. The way I looked at it, it's pretty silly to me. Twenty-five was pretty silly. It was pretty laughable. But still in all, it's a challenge that I willingly accept."

As for James Harden passing him as the league's top shooting guard in the GM poll, Bryant said his injury is clouding the GMs' judgement.

"I think they're counting on me being on one leg," Bryant said. "I think that's where the votes come from. I think they all don't think I can come back from this injury."

What level does Bryant expect himself at?

"I think I'll play like my normal self," Bryant said.

But going six months without playing any basketball as he lets his body heal has been anything but normal for the noted workaholic.

"I'm just trying to be calm and trying to be approaching it as the rest, the therapy is all a part of training," Bryant said. "A lot of times when we think of training, we think of weights, we think of running, that sort of thing. And if I only looked at it from that standpoint, I'd drive myself crazy, so I try to think of it as this part of the process is part of training as well because this is going to enable me to come back and be at close to 100 percent as I can."

Bryant has played through countless injuries before but said he has to measure himself more in this instance.

"It's a little different in the sense that, injuries to your lower extremities can always lead to something else," Bryant said. "So, it's not about being 100 percent necessarily, but it's about making sure that you're running with the proper gait and you're not putting stress on other areas that can then cause problems down the road."

Ever since 1996, the Lakers have gone as Bryant goes, so the five-time champion's assessment of his team's upcoming season makes perfect sense.

"I think it all depends on how we come together, and obviously, injuries is a big part of that," Bryant said. "Hopefully we can stay healthier than we were last year. I think that's really the big question mark for us. Can we stay healthy enough to make a significant run?"