Just 10 days after returning from a torn Achilles, Kobe Bryant is out with another injury. On Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers announced that the shooting guard is expected to miss six weeks with a fracture of the tibial plateau in his left knee.
Bryant was out of action for eight months and missed the first 19 games of the 2013-2014 NBA season. In his sixth contest back, he suffered another injury. Surgery will not be required, and he could be back by the All-Star Game.
The news of Bryant’s injury obviously isn’t good. L.A. recently signed him to a two-year contract extension that will pay him $48.5 million. At 35 years old and after 17 years in the league, it won’t be easy for the future Hall of Famer to come back from suffering two injuries in the span of nine months. However, there are some positives that the Lakers can draw from Bryant having to sit.
Even if Bryant hadn’t fractured his knee, the likelihood of the Lakers competing for a title would have been very slim. Several players on the team have been banged up, including Steve Nash, who has also played just six games. The Lakers won two titles with Bryant and Pau Gasol as their two best players, but the big man continues to struggle under Mike D’Antoni. Gasol is scoring and rebounding a little more than he did last year, but he’s shooting a career-low 43.9 percent from the field. With teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers out West, a first-round playoff exit might be the best a healthy Lakers team could hope for.
If the Lakers aren't going to make a run to the NBA Finals, they’re probably better off finishing at the bottom of the conference. The 2014 NBA Draft is expected to be one of the best in league history. Players like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker all have chance to become perennial All-Stars. Missing the playoffs would put them in the lottery and give them an opportunity to use their first-round pick on a possible second star to pair with Bryant.
Ever since the end of last season, the Lakers have been looking towards the summer of 2014. The organization didn’t sign any free agents to long-term deals with the hope of landing a big name in the offseason, so the club could compete in the 2014-2015 season. In order for the plan to be a success, Bryant must be completely healthy for the start of his new contract. Bryant will be forced to rest and make sure he comes back at 100 percent. He was cautious with the Achilles injury, but getting hurt twice in 2013 should force him to rest and be ready to have a big year in 2014.
The Western Conference is so good that a lot would have to go right for the Lakers, in order for them to make the playoffs. With Bryant on the bench, though, the team actually played better. In six games back, Bryant led the team to a 2-4 record. Before Bryant was ready to play, Los Angeles was above .500 at 10-9.
Over the course of a whole season, it’s hard to think that the Lakers would have more success without their best player. However, the team should be able to hold their own as Bryant continues to recover.