What to expect from Kobe Bryant's return

UPDATED Dec. 6, 5:03 p.m. ET

Kobe Bryant is back, his eight-month struggle to overcome a ruptured Achilles' tendon hitting its next phase when he returns to the court Sunday against Toronto at Staples Center.

Bryant broke the news himself on his Facebook page, which was on one hand appropriate given the importance of the moment and also could be viewed as another dig at the media for doubting he'd make it back this fast -- or at all.

Good for him. From the social media and other coverage coming out of the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo, Calif., this week, the five-time champion has been in midseason form in other ways, too.

Barking at teammates, daring them to double-team him, chewing on his jersey during a nervous moment, spewing expletives after a turnover or missed shot in a meaningless scrimmage, Bryant's basketball mind and wood-burning-stove of a heart are as potent as ever.

The skills? The athleticism? Not even Bryant knows that yet.

Bryant has spoken recently of his willingness to adapt if the explosiveness is gone from his surgically repaired left leg. Time will tell, but Bryant has been adapting his game for years. Many of his peers are younger and more athletic, but few think and analyze the game the way he does. Few have the chameleon-like characteristics to morph into whatever the body's physical limits allow.

As far as having an impact on the game within those limits -- whatever they are -- Bryant will find a way.

During the brief portions of practice that media were allowed to view this week, it was appropriately noted that Bryant was playing more of a facilitator role. This could be Bryant playing possum with the media. A case in point: Bryant told ESPN's Dave McMenamin at a launch even for his new shoes this week that he's refusing to dunk off his left leg in front of reporters just yet. Bryant, you see, remains salty over ESPN putting him 25th in the league in its preseason individual player rankings.

It could also just be part of the natural process for him as he tests the depth and breadth of what his body and basketball arsenal have to offer.

Exactly how much is there, and in what areas, will be for Bryant to figure out as he navigates his comeback. By returning Sunday against the Raptors, Bryant gets to reclaim his legend in front of an adoring home crowd, on the very floor where he shuffled helplessly to the locker room after his Achilles snapped against Golden State last April. He also gets to come back against the team he dropped 81 points on in 2006.

How far Bryant can turn back the clock at age 35 will be one of the fascinating storylines of the next seven months in the NBA. Don't expect miracles. But don't expect anything less than an all-out assault on this challenge with whatever Bryant has left, either.

 
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