He refuses to call it a season.
Even as he watched his peers wow fans during the 63rd annual NBA All-Star Game-another game he had to sit out because of his injured left knee-while fielding questions from TNT analysts about the status of his rehab, Kobe Bryant couldn’t bring himself to admit that a return to the court this season is looking less likely, that there’s really no need for him to rush back for the Lakers’ futile homestretch.
That’s just Kobe’s unwavering competitive nature. He has too much pride to let an injury end his season, even one as serious as the fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee. He’s too stubborn to concede that there’s nothing left for the Lakers to play for other than Ping-Pong balls in the upcoming NBA Draft.
It’s been tough sledding for Bryant and the Lakers this year. Bryant has already had to battle back from a torn Achilles in his left leg he suffered near the end of last season. Now he’s trying to recover from a left knee injury before the current season expires. He’s played in only six games this season, averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds. The Lakers have struggled mightily in his absence.
At this juncture, it seems virtually impossible for the Lakers to sneak into the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. It’s just not their year. Bryant knows this. In light of the current circumstances, it’s time for him to officially rule himself out for the remainder of the year.
Bryant would be better off giving himself more time to recuperate as opposed to expediting his recovery process just to play in games that probably won’t mean anything by the time he returns. The latest word is that he’ll be out at least until mid-March, at which point the Lakers would have about 17 games left to play in the regular season. It would make a lot more sense for him to come back if the team was in prime position to nab the eighth seed in the West. But the Lakers are so far out of the postseason picture it’s very possible they’ll be all but eliminated from playoff contention when Bryant is cleared to play. Why should Bryant risk further injury by playing in games that have no real significance?
Aside from his recent injuries, Bryant could also use a break from basketball to give his body some much-needed rest after competing in so many games over the years. Just think about all the games the 18-year veteran has played in. For the record, he’s played in 1,245 regular season games and 220 playoff games. Keep in mind he also played in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. And that’s not even counting the practices and workouts that led up to those games. The human body can endure but so much physical exertion. Bryant should just recharge the batteries and focus on coming back at full strength next season, when the Lakers’ current dismal campaign will be behind them.
If Bryant doesn’t rule himself out for the year, Lakers officials should consider doing it for him. Remember, the team signed Bryant in November to a two-year contract extension reportedly worth over $48 million. The extension was about more than keeping Bryant in a Lakers uniform for his entire career. The Lakers obviously believe their franchise player can continue to play at a high level and help them compete for championships through the end of his deal. The team’s general manager, Mitch Kupchak, expressed as much in announcing Bryant’s extension, saying the deal ensures Bryant will provide “excellent play and excitement for years to come.” The organization needs to start looking to next year, and that starts with doing right by its investment and putting an end to the pointless speculation about whether Bryant will be able to come back and rescue a season that’s pretty much unsalvageable. And while nobody’s suggesting that the Lakers intentionally tank the remainder of the season, more losses than wins the rest of the way would only improve the team’s chances of getting a higher draft pick. The Lakers don’t need Bryant to lose. He’s really bad at losing anyway.
There’s nothing to be gained from Bryant returning to the starting lineup except for maybe a few extra wins that won’t make much of a difference. It would behoove the team to let its healthy players finish out the year, and it would in Bryant’s best interest to take the rest of this season off and set his sights on a potentially resurgent 2014-15 season. No sense in either side taking any unnecessary risks.