Kobe Bryant Injury: How Torn Achilles Shakes Up LA Lakers Future

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Kobe Bryant Injury: How Torn Achilles Shakes Up LA Lakers Future
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

For just a few moments, at a crucial time during the Los Angeles Lakers-Golden State Warriors final showdown, the basketball world went silent.

News quickly spread that 34-year-old Kobe Bryant had torn his Achilles (per Lakers reporter Mike Trudell) in game No. 80, right in the midst of a playoff push. The man who seemed indestructible is now down for the count, with a nation in attendance waiting to see if he'll get back up.

There's obviously never a good time for a severe injury, but the effect of this one trickles down to more than just the victim.

Late last month, Bryant hinted that next season could be his last. But that was before learning he could end up missing most of it.

The typical history of this particular injury suggests that Bryant could be out anywhere from eight to 12 months. The best-case scenario is he misses a good chunk of next year. The worst-case scenario? He misses all of it.

Without Kobe, this team loses its identity.

General manager Mitch Kupchak constructed a roster that was built to win today, as in 2013 and 2014. But there wasn't much room for error in the blueprint. And unfortunately for everyone involved, error struck in the worst possible way.

Let's take a look and see how Bryant's devastating injury affects some key members of the franchise.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

 

Kobe Bryant

With this particular injury, we've seen different recovery times for different players. Jonas Jerebko missed an entire season with an Achilles tear. Chauncey Billups returned after approximately nine months. It took Elton Brand about eight months, and most recently, it took Terrell Suggs only six months after a miraculous recovery.

It's a good thing for Lakers fans that Kobe's got tiger's blood.

Though it's difficult to find any positives here, there is a glass-half-full viewpoint to approach this with. Despite the severity of the injury and the age of his legs, there's just no way Bryant lets this end his career. If anything, he now has motivation to work even harder to keep it going (via CBS Sports):

It's fueling me; I can feel it already. Players at this stage of their career pop their Achilles and the pundits say they never come back the same. So I can hear it already and it's pissing me off right now.

When Kobe Bryant is set on beating the odds, bet in favor of the Mamba.

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo

 

Dwight Howard

Remember when Dwight Howard was the centerpiece of the Orlando Magic? Well, it looks like he got his role back, whether he likes it or not.

With Bryant out, this is Howard's team, which might not sit well with Lakers fans who've been spoiled by Bryant's leadership. However, fans and Howard just don't have a choice.

An impending free agent, the Lakers had already planned on making Howard their guy for the future with the hopes of re-signing him this summer. But the plans for the future have been changed to the present.

This is an opportunity for Howard to prove to his critics he's a man and not a clown—because that's what this team will need, both physically on the court and vocally in the locker room.

Howard certainly won't have much to complain about now in terms of offensive touches. For the first time in 15 years, the Lakers will have a new go-to guy on offense.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

 

Pau Gasol

Despite his hefty contract, aging body and erratic play, the Lakers never pulled the trigger on a Pau Gasol trade with the fear of disrupting the team's balance in a win-now year. But I'm not sure the win-now strategy applies anymore.

Gasol will be entering the final year of his deal with L.A., which means his expiring contract becomes an attractive trade chip. And since the Lakers have struggled to lock up a playoff berth with Kobe in the lineup, chances are it won't be any easier with him out of it.

Mitch Kupchak will likely explore every possible trade avenue to try and bring in some fresher legs and a more potent scoring touch. Without Bryant, the Lakers have a glaring hole at the wing, and considering the twin-tower strategy wasn't all that effective with Kobe, it would be hard to believe they'll be able to thrive together without him.

Gasol may have lost his allure as an All-Star big man, but he's still a frontcourt asset. If the Lakers can find a suitor willing to throw in someone attractive, Gasol's days might be numbered in Los Angeles.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

 

Steve Nash

When the Lakers made the move to bring in 39-year-old Steve Nash, they did so expecting his usage rate to decrease from his days in Phoenix. With guys like Bryant, Howard and Gasol, Nash wouldn't need to dominate the ball for 40 minutes a night.

But no Bryant means Nash's usage rate increases by default. With the way the team's roster is currently built, someone needs to handle the ball and create the scoring opportunities.

The problem is Nash hasn't been all that durable in his one year in Los Angeles, and his shoulders may not be strong enough to take on added responsibilities. Though it would be hard to imagine Steve Nash calling it quits, he didn't come to L.A. this late in his career to be "the guy," especially for a team just looking to lock up a No. 8 seed.

I'm not saying Nash is going to hang 'em up, but if Kobe's timetable is worst-case scenario, it's something he'll likely be forced to think about.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

 

Mike D'Antoni

When Mike D'Antoni is given a star, he doesn't let any of its power go to waste.

“I’m riding him like freaking Secretariat,” D'Antoni said last year when referring to Jeremy Lin—the same Jeremy Lin who soon tore his meniscus, which resulted in him missing the last portion of the season, including the playoffs.

Granted, the Lakers needed Bryant to make the push into the playoffs, but the extended minutes throughout the season tend to add up for an older player with too many miles on the tires.

It will be interesting to see how D'Antoni reacts to criticism for the way he handles his rotations. A Dwight Howard-Mike D'Antoni duo should be a fun one to watch moving forward, as neither have been praised for their maturity.

The Lakers will need Bryant's voice and presence behind the scenes to keep the team and chemistry intact.

In fact, I'd hire Bryant tomorrow as the team's new associate head coach.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

 

Offseason

The Lakers just can't head into next season with the same roster minus Kobe. A move needs to be made to keep this team competitive in the West. 

But first they'll need to lock up Dwight Howard, who will be a free agent this summer. The Lakers need someone to build around for the future, and at 27 years old, Howard is the man for the job.

In terms of improving his supporting cast, it will be Gasol's name you hear in trade talks because of the valuable services he can offer to other lineups. And frankly, with Howard manning the paint, Gasol isn't a necessary piece for the Lakers moving forward.

This team needs to find someone to replace Bryant's scoring production—someone who can generate their own offense and create shots on their own.

No one player is going to replace Kobe Bryant, but changes must be made to keep L.A.'s head above water.

There's no immediate good that can come from an injury to your star player, face of the franchise and leader in the locker room, especially just two games before the playoffs. It's just one of those negatives that come with the territory in sports.

But for those who were worried that next year could be Bryant's last, an injury might ironically be what prolongs his career.

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