Kobe Bryant has been cleared to resume all basketball-related activities. While he may dress for Friday's game against the Golden State Warriors, his return to action is still up in the air, so we've taken a look at LA's upcoming schedule to try and pinpoint his most likely return date.
Fri, Nov 22 vs. Golden State Warriors
The Lakers' next game is against the Golden State Warriors on Friday, and this might be too soon. Kobe just resumed shooting drills last week, and while his clearance is excellent news, he'll need to get back to game speed before he can realistically expect to play at the level he's used to. On Monday, Mike D'Antoni said expecting Kobe to play Friday was "premature".
Still, it's hard to believe Kobe would sit out a game if he felt he could help his team win, and it's very possible that a week of full practice will be enough to make him to feel that way. This is the team Kobe hurt his Achilles against, and he might feel extra motivation to make his comeback against them. Also, keep in mind that this game is going to be on ESPN, and the Lakers won't have another nationally televised game until December 13 against Oklahoma City.
Return probability: 40%
Sun, Nov 24 vs. Sacramento Kings
If Kobe isn't ready to face the Warriors, that'll be a good sign that he's taking a measured, careful approach to his recovery and won't play until he feels 100%. The Kings aren't a team that the Lakers should struggle with even without Kobe, and if he isn't ready for the Warriors, it's unlikely another two days would make the difference.
Return probability: 10%
Tue, Nov 26 @ Washington Wizards
This is the first game in a three-game East Coast trip for the Lakers, and it's unclear whether Kobe would even make the trip if he hadn't played by this point. The Wizards certainly aren't a marquee team (or even a good one), so there isn't any additional motivation for Kobe to play outside of what he's feeling already.
Return probability: 15%
Wed, Nov 27 @ Brooklyn Nets
This is an intriguing game for several reasons - the Lakers will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back, and they'll certainly be able to use the emotional lift Kobe's return would provide. There's the added bonus of playing against several of his old rivals (Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on a team coached by Jason Kidd) in New York City. If there's an indication that Kobe could play against Brooklyn, don't be surprised if this game gets "flexed" to ESPN's Wednesday Night Basketball broadcast.
Return probability: 30%
Fri, Nov 29 @ Detroit Pistons
If Kobe isn't back by now, the third game in a road trip against an Eastern Conference straggler seems like a bizarre time for him to play. It certainly isn't out of the question (after all, if he feels ready, he'll play - and when he feels ready is up to him, not us), but we'd be surprised if this was the night.
Return probability: 15%
Sun, Dec 1 vs. Portland Trail Blazers
We don't think Kobe will be able to handle watching five full games without playing after he's been cleared to. Unless there's another medical issue that keeps him off the floor, we're extremely confident he'll be back by December 1, and the return to LA after a three-game road trip seems like the perfect opportunity. Portland is in excellent form this season, and we'd be shocked if Kobe doesn't play in this game.
Return probability: 80%
If December rolls around and Kobe Bryant isn't playing yet, we'd be willing to bet that he's targeting Friday, December 13th against OKC for his return. Kobe is a guy who loves symbolism and loves narrative, and the chance to come back on a Friday the 13th - on ESPN and against a contender - seems too good to pass up.
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