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LAKERS FYI

Less practice might be perfect fit for Kobe Bryant

The 32-year-old guard, who has played more than 46,000 minutes in the NBA, admits he is still experiencing knee pain, and he and Coach Phil Jackson appear to agree that it's best to monitor how much time he spends on practice court.

January 07, 2011|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Lakers guard Kobe Bryant looks to pass to teammate Lamar Odom (not pictured) after driving into the lane against New Orleans in the fourth quarter Friday night.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant looks to pass to teammate Lamar Odom (not pictured)… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Allen Iverson ridiculed it, NBA veterans traditionally rolled their eyes at it, and now it has landed on the Lakers' doorstep.

How much practice does an established player need? In this case, it's Kobe Bryant, whose age (32) and tire tread (46,400 career minutes) pointed to less practice time as he approached the midpoint of his 15th season.

After months of sidestepping questions about his right knee, Bryant confirmed lingering pain Friday by telling the New York Post that the knee was "almost bone on bone" because of ever-shrinking cartilage.

He had the third surgery of his career on the knee in July and, as part of his rehabilitation, planned to slowly settle into practicing with teammates, though his return to the practice court was hastened because he was angry with the way they played Christmas Day against the Miami Heat.

Bryant had taken part in some phases of practice up to that point, except full-court scrimmages, and might continue to be an intermittent participant because of his knee, Coach Phil Jackson said. Bryant experienced severe inflammation and had the knee drained twice during last season's playoff run before ultimately becoming the NBA Finals MVP.

"It's been an issue since last year and we monitored it all the way through the playoffs," Jackson said. "Surprisingly, we came out on top and he was able to make adjustments. The operation in the summer helped. He's come back in a way that I think is most appropriate.

"He's limited [his] practice time and now that he's stronger and he can adjust a lot to what he has to deal with, he's starting to practice a little bit, and that helps the team out too, to have him out on the floor with them."

Jackson has had many veterans skip large quantities of practice in past seasons — Ron Harper, John Paxson and Bill Cartwright among them — and said he wouldn't hesitate to give Bryant and Derek Fisher extra down time this season.

Michael Jordan practiced throughout his career, Jackson said, but dutiful days of practice started becoming secondary for Bryant after he and Jackson spoke before the 2008-09 season.

Jackson said he told Bryant that "the issue about getting older is about containing your leg strength and your ability to play. Some practices are going to have to be monitored and you and I have to reach a point of agreement on this. I'm going to give you the liberty to pick and choose what you want to practice or how you want to practice so that we could do this the right way."

It helps, however, when Bryant feels like practicing, Jackson reiterated.

"Having him out there to practice makes it better for our team," Jackson said. "But once they play with him a few games again, then they adjust to the fact that he's a guy that's going to break off some of the offense, he's going to chase [possession of] the ball once in a while, he's going to shortchange some of the things that we do to get the ball [to others]. That itself breaks the rhythm a little bit and players adjust to it and they're fine."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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