Kobe's knee trouble leads to a 'we' problem

LAS VEGAS -- Kobe Bryant's choice of pronouns was somewhat revealing Tuesday as he made his first appearance with Team USA.

He didn't sound like a member of the team, even though he technically still is one.

Bryant watched from the fifth row of the stands as the American team played its first scrimmage against another national team, looking especially sharp defensively in defeating Puerto Rico 116-82 behind 23 points from Carmelo Anthony and 20 from LeBron James.

For most of the game, Bryant was seated with team director Jerry Colangelo and agent Rob Pelinka, and he did not interact with the players on the bench during the game, in the locker room prior to tipoff, or on the court following the final buzzer.

"The waves with which they play [are] something that's amazing and fun to watch. They come at you in waves, and it's non-stop, the pressure they put on full court," Bryant said. "The quick hands, the quick feet that they have, one through five out there on the court, everyone is extremely athletic and physically gifted. They're all playing well together, doing well defensively. I think defensively is really their area of emphasis."

For those keeping score, that answer included six references to "they" and its variants, zero references to "we."

Bryant's comments were his first public statements of the summer, coming nearly three weeks after he underwent what was termed as "minor" knee surgery to clean out scar tissue and "impingements," as Bryant described it.

The news of Bryant's surgery came as a shock to Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski when they learned of it just three days before camp was to open, and some had questioned why Bryant waited until mid-summer to address the problem.

"It's been there all season, but it was something we didn't think was anything that was going to linger," Bryant said. "I had knee problems in the past and just played through it, and once I played through it, it felt great. This summer I started my training regimen, and the knee just wasn't getting any better. We had to take a look at it and found out we had to do a little tweak."

A tweak? Not many people call surgery a tweak.

"It wasn't like I had to repair a damaged ACL or anything like that. But you've been in this league for some time, you've got some issues going on with your knee that need to be addressed," Bryant said. "So I had to go and take care of that.

"We didn't really know it to be something that required surgery until we were into the summer. It was one of those things that just continued to linger, and we jumped on it as early as we could."

Bryant, Paul Pierce (impending elbow surgery) and Lamar Odom (death of his infant son)
were the only three members of the 24-man national roster who did not make it to training camp, and Bryant was the first of that trio to make an appearance.

When news of Bryant's surgery was first released, the announcement said Bryant still planned to travel with the team to China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. But those plans have changed.

"Mr. Colangelo and Coach K both thought it would be best for me to stay back and take care of my situation since it's a three-year commitment, making sure I get completely healthy to go next summer and hopefully in the '08 Olympics," Bryant said.

Colangelo was quick to point out that Bryant is likely to join the team at some point when it gets to Japan for the World Championship, but only because he'll be doing promotional appearances there for Nike.

The first day we'll finally see Bryant in a USA jersey (he had to withdraw from the team in 2003 and 2004) -- and the first time he'll call the team "we" instead of "they" -- will remain undetermined for at least another year.

Chris Sheridan, a national NBA reporter for the past decade, covers the league for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.