What's the Rush in Getting Kobe Bryant Back Early to Middling LA Lakers Team?
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According to Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles, Lakers vice president Jim Buss "would bet a lot of money" that Bryant, who is rehabbing a torn Achilles and is apparently ahead of schedule, would be back in time for the regular season.
"Well, we're in Vegas, and I would bet a lot of money that this guy comes back probably in preseason," Buss said during the Lakers-Milwaukee Bucks game at the Las Vegas Summer League. "He's real sharp in taking care of himself and he's not going to rush anything just to get back and prove a point. He's going to come back when he's right. He's a machine. He's inhuman. I see him coming back at the beginning of this season. I can't believe how much he's progressed so far."
Now there's an inherent contradiction in Buss' statement.
It would be petty and detrimental to Bryant's longevity to rush back to prove a point. To overburden a torn Achilles after 1,239 career games is tantamount to asking to badly hurt it again; Bryant is hypercompetitive and has never endured such a serious injury, but he must recognize this.
But if he does see the virtue of resting his tendon—not to mention the rest of his constantly banged-up body—then why go through the inhuman act of returning so soon anyway?
Granted, the initial diagnosis was six-to-nine months on the shelf as of April 14. If Kobe returns just before the regular season, that would be at the short end of that range, but it would technically still be on schedule.
That doesn't make it sensible to shoot for the least amount of time off the court. Kobe and his maniacal work ethic can bring him back in time for the opening game (in hindsight, no one should be surprised by this), but it's still not what's best for him.
Let's remember that while Bryant seems ageless, he is actually 34 years old; he will turn 35 before he rejoins the Lakers, no matter how far ahead of schedule he is.
And let's keep in mind how serious a torn Achilles is. It's not the type of injury you just start running on like you're your old self again, even once rehab is complete.
That goes for everyone, NBA players and extraterrestrials like Kobe included. If he makes it back for the regular season, he surely won't be himself. He could help the Lakers on one leg because he's that good of a shooter, but it's in neither party's best interest.
For the Lakers, the rationale is obvious.
A lineup of Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson and a slowed Kobe Bryant does not a championship contender make. At best, that team of aging stars and hodgepodge supporters can compete for a low playoff seed, but the Lakers won't make it out of the first round in 2014, if they make it at all.
It's actually a win-win for the Lakers if Kobe to take his time.
If next season is a wash, then L.A. needs Bryant at full strength for the 2014-15 season. Having him healthy will help the Lakers recruit another star or two from the stacked upcoming free agent class to play alongside him. On the other hand, if the Lakers re-sign a diminished Bryant (and they won't let him go), attracting talent won't be as easy.
And if a championship is not in play for next season, the Lakers might as well grab the best draft pick possible. That's not advocation for tanking—the L.A. faithful would riot at the thought. Yet it's a reality that it would benefit the Lakers to lose a few games while waiting for Kobe to get fully healthy.
Meanwhile, Kobe's push to get back is due to his quest up the all-time scoring leaderboard; he is currently fourth, nearly 7,000 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most in NBA history. It's a worthwhile pursuit, but it's one that he needs years more to complete, not weeks.
If Kobe wills his way through 82 achy games, it will take a permanent toll on his legs. He needs at least four more full seasons if he wants to catch Kareem, and he won't be able to do so if he overexerts himself now.
Rather, missing some games early in the 2013-14 season will allow Bryant to rest his Achilles to full health rather than playable condition. He might lose some points in the short term, but he could gain as much as a season's worth in the long run.
On both a personal level and a team level, it makes the most sense for Kobe to take his time and rehab slowly but surely. That leaves only pride and ego as reasons to rush, and those are points Bryant can't worry about proving in the twilight of his career.
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