Jackson expected back soon; Kobe's status uncertain

Updated: October 20, 2006, 10:42 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm definitely won't be ready to start the season and Kobe Bryant's status for opening night has yet to be determined, but the Los Angeles Lakers do believe Phil Jackson will be coaching them against the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 31.

"We expect [Jackson] to be ready by opening night and hopefully even for the last preseason game in Anaheim on Oct. 26," Lakers spokesman John Black said Friday.

Jackson desperately hoped offseason rest and rehabilitation would enable him to avoid an operation, but he was forced to undergo hip-replacement surgery Oct. 3 when his worsening condition left no alternative.

The 61-year-old, about to begin the second season of a three-year contract in his second stint with the Lakers, has thus been restricted to part-time coaching duty all month, entrusting Kurt Rambis with running the team through training camp and exhibition play.

Bryant, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee July 15, is more of a maybe for the Lakers' exhibition Sunday against the Suns in San Diego and next week's Denver game.

The Lakers' perennial All-Star is approaching his 15th week of rehab after initial estimates of an eight- to 12-week recovery, but Rambis indicated earlier this week that he'd be surprised if Bryant wasn't on the floor at Staples Center to face the Suns, regardless of whether he's able to play in an exhibition game.

The bigger uncertainties, perhaps, will be the state of Bryant's conditioning after a month of limited preparations and how long it will take him to shake off the rust.

It's difficult, furthermore, to imagine the Lakers playing with much cohesion in November after such a disjointed October, with Brown sidelined for three to four weeks after suffering a shoulder injury over the weekend, Mihm still recovering from offseason ankle surgery and Vladimir Radmanovic, L.A.'s primary summer acquisition, forced into street clothes this week by a sprained ligament in his shooting hand.

The most worrying aspect of all this for the Lakers is how it could limit their ability to capitalize on what might be the most favorable stretch of their schedule. Fifteen of L.A.'s first 20 games are at home and one of the five road games in that span is at Staples Center against the Clippers.

The Lakers dodged serious injury throughout much of last season, helping them post a 45-37 record and return to the playoffs after a one-year absence, but it appears they'll be operating well short of full capacity for the bulk of that early run at home.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics