Jackson ready for opener; Kobe return uncertain

Updated: October 25, 2006, 1:27 AM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Leaning on a metal cane, Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson declared himself "pretty much pain-free" Tuesday in his first public comments since undergoing right hip replacement surgery three weeks ago.

"I'm feeling pretty good," he said after watching the Lakers scrimmage for season ticket-holders at Staples Center. "It's good enough so I can go to practices and feel comfortable on the court."

He plans to return to the bench for the season opener next Tuesday against Phoenix.

And he'd like to do so without the cane.

"I hope to throw it away next week," he said.

Also on the mend is Kobe Bryant, who participated in his first full-court scrimmage Tuesday since offseason right knee surgery.

"It was good enough to get through practice," he said. "We had a lot of breaks in between plays."

Bryant said he should be ready for the season opener, but Jackson wasn't so sure.

"He's stalled out a little bit on his rehab and on coming back," the coach said. "I really want him to be healthy when he comes back because a lot is asked of him and he plays heavy minutes. If things don't go right, it could be a setback."

Jackson confirmed that centers Kwame Brown (right shoulder) and Chris Mihm (offseason right ankle surgery) will miss at least the first two weeks of the season, making Andrew Bynum, who turns 19 on Friday, the starter.

Toward the end of practice, Jackson sat on the bench, his hands leaning on the cane propped in front of him. Bryant was next to him, a huge bag of ice wrapped around his knee.

"He had his armor on today, which is the Lakers sweatsuit," Bryant said of Jackson. "He puts that on, it means it's time for business."

During Jackson's recovery, assistant Kurt Rambis has been running training camp and coaching preseason games.

Jackson won't make the trip to Anaheim on Thursday night when the Lakers play Denver in their final preseason tuneup.

"That's still something I'm not quite comfortable doing," said Jackson, who hasn't recovered enough to drive.

For the first time in three years, though, Jackson made it through a couple hours of practice without pain. The hip replacement has also made it easier for him to sleep comfortably at night.

"What's important now is I'm pretty much pain-free," he said.

Jackson's rehabilitation involves doing exercises a couple times a day and walking, which he said should be easy to continue during down time on road trips.

Jackson has attended practice about seven times in the last two weeks, but he's been more of a presence behind the scenes -- watching film and discussing practice plans and lineups with Rambis.

"I don't think my voice is an entity yet in their ear and that's one of the things as a coach, they've got to respond to my voice," Jackson said.

Bryant certainly did.

"He's the same old Phil, jumping up and making sure he yells out instructions and subtleties of the game during practice," he said. "We definitely missed his voice."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press