EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is expected to be in the starting lineup Wednesday when his team opens its regular season against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center. The game will kick off Bryant’s NBA-record 20th season in purple and gold.
“I’m just ready,” the 37-year-old said after practice at the team’s facility Tuesday. “Just ready to get started.”
At tipoff, Bryant will set a league record for most seasons played with one franchise, surpassing John Stockton, who played for the Utah Jazz from the 1984-85 season until his retirement after 2002-03.
The five-time champion and third all-time leading scorer in NBA history has been recovering from a lower leg contusion suffered Oct. 13 in a preseason loss to the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas. The injury sidelined Bryant for the team’s final three preseason games and kept him out of practice for nearly two weeks.
In his first comments to reporters since the injury, Bryant, whose past three seasons have been cut short by injury, said he feels fine.
“I don’t really have any anxiety about it,” he said. “It’s been slowly getting better. The past couple days, I’ve been able to move a lot more with some of the things that we feel comfortable doing.”
He also said his conditioning is fine, even though he has been sidelined recently.
“I’ve been training pretty hard for a long time now, so a week ain’t going to be nothing for me,” he said.
Bryant also said the preseason injury doesn’t change his outlook or approach to the season.
“I look at it as injuries being a part of the game,” he said. “It’s kind of having a different filter on it because of the injuries that I’ve had the past three years, but the reality is injuries happen to everybody. You have to continue to look at it from a macro level, a macro perspective. You look around the league, and there’s a lot of players who have gotten injured. I’ve gotten injured every training camp since I’ve been in the league. I don’t try to put too much emphasis on it.”
Lakers coach Byron Scott said Bryant has moved well the past few practices.
“He looked good,” Scott said.
Scott added that Bryant would play against the Timberwolves “unless something crazy happens” between now and tipoff, though Scott wouldn’t divulge how many minutes he plans to play Bryant in the opener.
“Don’t worry about the number, [but] we’ve got a number in mind,” Scott said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a hard cap, but I’m going to stick as close to it as possible.”
When asked about his expectations this season, Bryant, who was ranked No. 93 in ESPN’s #NBArank project, cracked a smile.
“I’ll just be an old, average player,” he said.
Bryant spent nine months rehabbing a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, the injury that ended his 2014-15 season after 35 games. Before that injury, he averaged 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists, but he made a career-worst 37.3 percent of his shots in a wildly inconsistent season.