ORLANDO, Fla. — Kobe Bryant declined to address reporters Sunday, sending his regrets through a team spokesperson.
He sat at the end of the bench in an oversized sweater, watching his first live Laker game in nine days, then joined the team on the flight to Miami.
Coach Phil Jackson said he did not know if Bryant, who has about 10 stitches in his right index finger, would be available for games Tuesday in Miami and Wednesday in Houston.
Also, there is the matter of Sunday's All-Star game in Los Angeles, and whether Bryant would play if he missed the eight regular-season games leading into the weekend, or whether the organization felt it would be an unwise risk whether he played during the week or not.
Bryant would answer no questions and Jackson had few answers, leaving the Lakers in a familiar place, awaiting the return of an injured superstar, suffering on the floor in the meantime.
On Sunday morning, Jackson considered whether his promise of flexibility for Bryant had a limit. It came at the conclusion of one of Bryant's most difficult weeks, given two court dates, an illness and stitches and, apparently, a decision to skip the game in Philadelphia for none of those reasons. Or, all of them.
"That's a hard question to answer," Jackson said. "I don't think there's a place where we can start where things are. I don't know, things are never in any spot. It's like quicksand; we're always sinking. One level deeper or one stratum to go before we know what's the bottom out. So, it's hard to say."
For now, Jackson said, he was still willing to let it play out. He would appear to have little other choice.
"If he was available to play," Jackson said, "it would be entirely different."
He said he would like to sit down and talk to Bryant, perhaps before the break, so he could understand what Bryant was thinking, if he were feeling emotionally undone by the events of the week.
Meanwhile, the Lakers will concentrate on trying to get Bryant back onto the floor. Trainer Gary Vitti will attempt to remove his stitches today. Despite Jackson's apparent doubts, there is some optimism for Tuesday night.
"It's the first time we were able to see the damage that's been done to his finger, and he's got a ways to go," Jackson said. "He can barely bend his finger still."
Bryant greeted Shaquille O'Neal's father, Philip Harrison, with a big smile and hug during the first quarter, when Harrison came up behind the Laker bench during a timeout.
In the same building where, three years ago, Harrison stood up in the stands and screamed at Bryant to pass the ball, Bryant acted as though he was thrilled to see "Sarge."
While billed as the headliner in the All-Star skills contest, Gary Payton said Sunday he probably would not participate in the event and has asked his agent to notify the NBA.
The contest will be held Saturday, the night before the All-Star game at Staples Center.
Payton moved into fifth place on the all-time steals list with 2,208. He trails Scottie Pippen, Maurice Cheeks, Michael Jordan and John Stockton.
Maurice Carter's 10-day contract expired Sunday. The Lakers will decide whether to extend him another 10 today. ... Bryon Russell, 16th in the league in three-point shooting, did not play Sunday, and three times this week has played fewer than seven minutes.