The news just keeps getting worse for the Los Angeles Lakers and their star Kobe Bryant, whose return was delayed for at least three more weeks after a Friday examination. The Lakers, mired in a disappointing season in which the best case scenario is not finishing last in their division, might as well play it safe with the aging future hall of famer. The 35-year-old Bryant has not appeared in a game since Dec. 17 against the Memphis Grizzlies.
This setback only increases the possibility that Bryant will not be getting back on the court this season at all. The three-week time frame would push his return back to March 14, which would mean he we would appear in only the team’s last 17 games in the most optimistic circumstances. Considering Bryant has already missed 49 of the team’s 55 games this season, it would not seem logical to rush his return. When asked point-blank if Bryant would be out the remainder of the season, Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni refused to speculate, but he did allow such a possibility existed.
However, the writing may already be on the wall. Bryant has called his recovery a “slow” process, and teammate Pau Gasol was quoted as saying that it would be better for the prolific scorer to rest up and get healthy, even if he did not make another appearance this season. Considering the Lakers just reached an agreement to pay another $48.5 million over the next two seasons to the face of their franchise, a big picture approach with this situation is merited.
For a team with a rich tradition of winning like the Los Angeles Lakers, this recent fall from grace is especially hard for the organization to swallow. Just four years ago, they were the NBA champions, and after adding dominant big man Dwight Howard to team up with Bryant prior to the 2012-13 season, it seemed they would remain relevant in the Western Conference for years to come.
Instead, that team finished just 45-37, Howard bolted after one controversial year playing alongside Bryant, and the organization has not found its footing since. The Los Angeles Laker headlines have not been especially friendly of late, and the delayed return of their star Kobe Bryant does nothing to help that situation.
While teammates describe Bryant’s attitude while being sidelined as admirable, the 18-year veteran and owner of five championship rings did not make an effort to hide his disappointment when the Lakers traded Steve Blake on Wednesday. Bryant immediately took to Twitter, calling the trade “not cool” and praising Blake for being a “gem” and one of his close friends. The trade was yet another indication that this version of the Los Angeles Lakers is not living up to the expectations set by past teams.
If there is a bright spot to be found in what has to be viewed as a lost season otherwise, it is that the woeful performance will earn them a higher pick in this year’s draft, and the caliber of talent coming into the league is said to be incredible. The proud organization will have their chance to retool in the off-season through the draft and free agency, and the future could still be bright.
For now, though, Kobe Bryant’s delayed return is just another piece of bad news for a Los Angeles Laker team that cannot seem to recall its true identity without its star and centerpiece.
By Spencer Hendricks