Kobe Bryant feared off-season surgery for index finger would entail long recovery process
Whenever Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives the lane this season and receives a whack on his right index finger, he'll expect it to hurt for a minute or two. But he predicts the impact will be as short-lived as the sequence that set up the contact.
"It's not going to be any worse than it was last year," Bryant said Saturday at the team's practice facility in El Segundo, where the Lakers opened up training camp. "It feels a lot stronger. Overall, it feels good."
That wasn't the case last season. After suffering an avulsion fracture Dec. 11 against Minnesota, he expected the pain to be minimal. It didn't turn out that way. Bryant constantly tinkered with his splint, trying to find the proper balance between protecting his finger and maintaining his ability to grip the ball. His shooting percentage suffered. And the original timetable for when the finger was expected to be fully healed went from six weeks, which Bryant managed to play through, to indefinite, with Bryant eventually developing arthritis in the knuckle of that right index finger during the postseason.
When asked during his exit interview what injury hurt the most among his assorted dings during the 2009-10 season -- the finger, the sprained left ankle, the swollen right knee, the periodic back spasms -- Bryant didn't hesitate with his response. "The finger," he said. "Once we drained the knee, it was fine. Fine enough. The finger, though, was a constant problem. It was always around."
That's why the casual observer might think Bryant would have had off-season surgery on the finger, especially considering he had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Not so. While Bryant said the knee has felt "strong" since undergoing the procedure, he feared that any work on his index finger would've entailed a drawn-out rehabilitation process.
"The surgery takes too long to recover with the kind of surgery I need to do to fix it," Bryant said. "I would just miss too much of the season. It didn't make sense. To miss so much of the season I could play with doesn't make any sense."
In fact, there was a strong possibility Bryant would have missed time. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said that Chip Schaefer, the team's director of athletic performance/player development and strength coach, told him nearly six weeks ago he thought Bryant would miss the entire preseason because of the rehab process with his knee. Because Bryant has "been working hard the past month," as Jackson put it, he plans to play him when the Lakers begin their preseason schedule with stops in London on Oct. 4 against the Minnesota Timberwolves and in Spain on Oct. 7 against Regal FC Barcelona.
Said Jackson: "Just recently Kobe said he’s starting to move and feel the right way."
That hardly sums up Bryant's finger during the 2009-10 season, considering all the adjustments he made throughout the season. But Bryant insists that won't be an issue this season. He doesn't plan on wearing a splint and believes he'll only need to wrap it. He insists the pain will be mild. And when asked by The Times' Mark Heisler if he needed to discipline himself on setting his own limits, Bryant shrugged his shoulders.
"I just have to win," he said. "I just have to figure out a way."
The first step toward that process entailed ensuring that Bryant would remain on the court, a scenario he says wouldn't have been possible with off-season surgery on the finger.
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