We know that the Los Angeles Lakers' newly-minted championship machine isn't going to work unless all the pieces are functioning correctly.
We spent a lot of the summer worrying that new addition Dwight Howard might miss some time due to a herniated disk sustained while he was still a member of the Orlando Magic. It turns out Howard should be fine—and has already made his exhibition debut with the Lakers—but now, there's someone else we should be worrying about.
News broke this week that Kobe Bryant is dealing with a foot injury that could compromise his chances of being ready in time for the start of the regular season on Tuesday against the Mavericks.
According to Ramona Shelburne and Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Lakers head coach Mike Brown said Bryant may be out for the season-opener, but more bothersome is the fact that nobody really knows what's going on with Bryant's foot, or just how serious the injury is.
The team, according to Shelburne and McMenamin, is saying Bryant is dealing with a foot strain and is out indefinitely, and that the injury has improved somewhat this week.
Sources, however, have told Shelburne and McMenamin that this injury is not the same one that kept Bryant out of practices earlier in the season:
This injury is in a different place on his right foot and is considerably more painful. Bryant was injured this time when he tripped over Thomas Robinson's foot in the third quarter of Sunday's 99-92 loss to the Kings.
The Lakers obviously improved significantly in the offseason. The acquisitions of Howard and Steve Nash put them at least on par with a team like Miami—but with one caveat.
Bryant obviously needs to be healthy, too. He is the glue that holds the rest of the team together. Without him, the Lakers are just another team with a good center and a good point guard. They need Bryant. Big Two's don't work, especially when that Big Two is already questionable because another player still doesn't appear to be at 100 percent.
Although Howard played on Sunday, ESPN L.A. reports that he felt sore on Monday and Tuesday after playing for the first time in six months. Subsequently, he missed Wednesday's practice.
And that leaves us with a Big One. When Nash signed on to join the Lakers, he likely didn't think he'd be coming into the same situation he left behind in Phoenix.
Bryant's health is not something to be taken for granted. We've spent so much time being fixated on what will or will not happen if Howard can't go that we've failed to recognize what the situation will be if Bryant is the one who is injury-riddled.
Bryant has been around for a while. He's entering his 17th season in the NBA. For him, health isn't a guarantee, and he's well aware of that. He's taken the proper precautions to ensure that his career lasts a while.
Which is why he has to be extra careful with this foot injury. He can't risk coming back too soon and having this turn into something that haunts him for the entire season. Nobody knows how long this Lakers Big Three is going to last, but the consensus seems to be that this year is very important. No one knows where Howard is going to be when the summer of 2013 rolls around.
But without a healthy Bryant, none of that is relevant.
This is a critical year for the Lakers, and they need everyone to be as close to 100 percent as possible. That doesn't mean just the new additions. It means the player who built this team into the favorite to make it to the NBA championship.
Without him on the court, this team isn't going anywhere. So hopefully, those unnamed sources are wrong about the nature of that foot injury.