Lakers All-Star guard Kobe Bryant shares a laugh with the audience during… (Jason Kempin/Getty Images…)
Very early into his hour-long conversation with Kobe Bryant, Jimmy Kimmel asked the Lakers All-Star guard the most important question.
Will Bryant be ready to play Oct. 29 on opening night?
"I don't know if I'll be ready for opening night. I really don't know," Bryant said. "I know I'm really, really ahead of schedule."
Fresh off his trip to China and the Philippines, Bryant sat down at Nokia Theatre on Thursday night in a special event titled, "Kobe Up Close Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel" — the proceeds for the event going the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Foundation to help fight homelessness and also to support "Coach for Kids and Their Families" a program of the Cedars-Sinai Maxine Dunitz Childrens' Health Center that provides no-cost health care to underserved communities.
"With an Achilles' injury, it's just one of those freak situations," said Bryant, who didn't want to blame his April season-ending tear on playing too many minutes.
Will he accept a reduced role next year?
"That's the goal," Bryant said. "We got a little younger and picked up a couple of wing players who I really think will help us tremendously next year — Nick Young and Wesley Johnson. I really look forward to them easing the load."
"Yeah, we'll see when you get on the court," Kimmel said.
The conversation naturally turned to the departure of Dwight Howard.
"Dwight's a great kid," Bryant said.
"It was about the organization. It was about everything they'd done for me throughout my career," said Bryant about why he attended the pitch to keep Howard. "It was about me trying to help them out any way I can to set them up for the future, for when I retire. It wasn't about me."
Bryant talked about missing the team's late owner Jerry Buss.
"He knew exactly what his vision was," he said. "He was very understanding and he communicated clearly. For me, he allowed me to grow as a person."
In addition to praising Shaquille O'Neal for what they accomplished together, he remembered some of the more difficult times.
"It never bothered me that people said, 'You only won championships because you're playing with Shaq.' It bothered me when he said it," Bryant said. "I had to prove that I could win without him."
Defying urban legend that he was Duke-bound, had he gone to college instead of the NBA straight out of high school, Bryant said he was leaning toward North Carolina. "I love [Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski]," Bryant said. "The truth has to come out."
Why North Carolina? Vince Carter, a Tar Heel, was one of the top guards in the country at the time. "I want to play against him, every single day," Bryant said.
If he could pick one player to join he Lakers?
"I'd take Derek Fisher back," answered Bryant. "We won five titles together."
How will the Lakers fare this season?
"I think we'll finish 12th," said Bryant, poking fun at a national website's ranking of the Lakers in the Western Conference. "ESPN gets stuff wrong all the time."
"Are you certain that you'll be a Laker for life?" Kimmel asked.
"Yeah," Bryant said.