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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Of all the uncertainties facing the Los Angeles Lakers as they prepare for their season opener later this month against the Clippers the biggest is the timetable for Kobe Bryant's comeback from injury.
The 15-time All-Star shooting guard has been sidelined since mid-April with a torn left Achilles' tendon and only recently returned from Germany where he had an innovative procedure on his arthritic right knee.
While Lakers fans would dearly love to know when they can expect to see their most influential player back in action, Bryant himself is unfazed about the exact timing of his return.
"I just keep it all open right now," the 35-year-old told reporters earlier this week when asked whether he could be back for his team's season opener at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles on October 29.
"I don't know why you guys are so hell bent on timelines. When I'm ready, I'm ready."
Bryant, known throughout his career for his determination to play through pain and various other setbacks, said he was treating his recovery from Achilles' surgery as a marathon, and not as a sprint.
"That's how I approached this injury and how we approached this injury from the beginning," he explained. "It's a marathon. You just have to get up and punch the clock every day, and continue to chip away at it every day.
"I'll be happy when I can get there on the floor and do what I do best. All of this right now is a process to get to that point."
Asked what he identified as the next step in his rehabilitation process, Bryant replied: "It's the explosiveness, and the muscle endurance, which takes a little time.
"I have to get my fat ass in shape, too. It's been six months of just eating whatever the hell I wanted to eat, not running and stuff like that has caught up to me a little bit.
"So I have to get in shape. Three weeks of rigorous conditioning does it for me," said Bryant, who has gradually increased his treadmill time while also doing extra calf exercises to improve the mobility of his Achilles'.
The five-time NBA champion, who had the same "Orthokine" procedure performed on his knee in Germany two years ago, was being extra cautious about not returning to competitive basketball too soon.
"That's when you get hurt, going out there and doing that stuff," he said. "That's the process I've always been on - three strong weeks of pushing the stamina.
"I have the green light now to be able to do that, but it's a matter of having the flexibility and strength to run at high speeds out here on the court or track or whatever."
In the absence of the injured Bryant, the Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs last season and several question marks are swirling over their likely success during 2013-14.
Seven-time All-Star center Dwight Howard opted to leave Los Angeles and join the Houston Rockets despite a substantial paycut, prompting the Lakers to recruit former Clippers center Chris Kaman on a one-year deal to help fill the gap.
With the addition of Kaman soaking up virtually all of the Lakers' "mini" mid-level salary exception, former defensive player of the year Metta World Peace was released by the franchise during the offseason.
All of this has left a likely starting lineup for the 16-times NBA champions hinging around Bryant, Kaman, Spanish forward Pau Gasol, veteran point guard Steve Nash and Steve Blake.
Editing by Frank Pingue