KOBE IN, BUT LAKERS HOBBLED FOR LONDON

Maybe next week’s clash in London between the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves won’t be such a mis-match after all. Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, whose team opened training camp on Saturday, has confirmed that Kobe Bryant is likely only to see limited court-time in the UK as he continues his recovery from knee surgery.

And the reigning NBA champions are set to be without both Andrew Bynum and Luke Walton for their October 4 game at the 02 Arena, as well as their visit to Barcelona three days later.

65-year-old Jackson, returning for what he speculates could be his final campaign at the helm, is not expected to rush Bryant back into full action despite his star’s aggressive work-out regime since he went under the knife at the start of the summer ago. But, speaking at a press conference in Los Angeles, he was hopeful that the Most Valuable Player of last June’s NBA Finals will feature at some point in London.

“He’s been working really hard the past month,” Jackson said. “5 or 6 weeks ago, (Lakers trainer) Chip Schaefer sent me a note that said: ‘It looks like it will be just working with Kobe during training camp and in pre-season games’. Just recently, Kobe said he’s starting to move and move the right way and I anticipate he’ll play some minutes, even over in Europe.”

There is no such hope for Bynum, whose own knee surgery was more complex. Jackson refused to criticise the centre for delaying the procedure until after he, Bryant and Pau Gasol took a trip to South Africa for the football World Cup.

Kobe Bryant is coming off a second straight NBA Finals MVP (NBAE/Getty)

“I haven’t anticipated Andrew being ready for the start of the season,” he declared. “It’s an unfortunate thing but the type of surgery which the doctor did on his knee takes a little extra time. Obviously, we hadn’t prepared – and Andrew certainly hadn’t prepared – for the fact it would take an extra month and a half or so to rehab.”

Walton, who has spent the summer resting his bad back, is another potential absentee with concerns building over his long-term future in the game. “I can’t say I’m confident,” the Lakers coach said. “I’m hopeful.”

The Lakers are expected to fly to the UK on Friday and hold practice on Saturday afternoon at Crystal Palace. But 13 years after he took the Chicago Bulls to Paris, the notoriously travel-shy Jackson sounds less than enthusiastic about the prospect of heading across the Atlantic.

“We’re going to go to Europe and we’re to be a showcase team for the NBA in Europe, which is fine,” he said. “It’s our turn to go and we’ll make the best out of it.”

It is not, he confirmed, the preparation he would have wished for with so many injuries and a number of rookies and free agent signings who have to be integrated into the champions’ rotation.

“This training camp is kind of a bust,” Jackson said. “You just have to try to do the best you can in this training camp. We’ll try to incorporate these new players, embrace them, educate them in what we do [but] we don’t anticipate in the first two weeks that we’re going to gain any ground, so to speak.”

Good news for the T-Wolves but not for Phil.

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