Kobe Bryant's Early Return Wouldn't Make Los Angeles a Contender

Benjamin Klein@BenjaminJKleinContributor IIIJuly 23, 2013

April 12, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA;  Los Angeles Lakers trainer Gary Vitti and center Robert Sacre (50) help shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) as leaves the game in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at the Staples Center. Bryant suffered a torn Achilles tendon. He under went surgery April 13 and is expected to miss six to nine months. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

It doesn’t matter when Kobe Bryant returns to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Los Angeles isn’t going to make it into the postseason whether the star guard is playing in all 82 games or no games at all in the upcoming NBA season. The Lakers just don’t have the talent necessary to finish in the top eight in the Western Conference. It’s very simple to understand.

It appears that Lakers vice president Jim Buss is trying to stir up the pot a bit by saying that Bryant, who’s recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in April, could be playing in preseason games. Here’s what Buss said during an interview with NBA TV, via Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles:

Well, we’re in Vegas, and I would bet a lot of money that this guy comes back probably in the preseason. 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 the season. I can’t believe how much he’s progressed so far.

Sure, no one wants to see Bryant on the sidelines when he could be on the court, which is why this is encouraging news. But this changes absolutely nothing about the chances the Lakers have of making the playoffs next season.

Does Buss think that Bryant’s early return makes the team a contender again?

Major surgery probably won’t keep Bryant from scoring at least 25 points per game next season, but that’s not going to be nearly enough to carry the team. He lost arguably his most valuable teammate, Dwight Howard, to free agency and is now surrounded by veterans who won’t be big contributors next season.

Here’s a look at Los Angeles’ projected starting five for next season:

Keep in mind that Meeks was more of a bench player last season, which speaks to why his numbers are considerably lower than any of the other projected starters. There’s also no guarantee that Meeks will be the starting shooting guard. His role on the team is very much still up in the air, but again, it’s just a projection.

Based on that projection, the Lakers starting five could probably be around 75 points per night. With that being said, the bench will need to contribute roughly 27 points each game in order to match Los Angeles’ average points per game from last season (102.2). That seems like a tall order.

This is an aged team that going to have a tough time running with some of the younger organizations. How are the Lakers going to beat the Thunder, or the Rockets or even the Spurs next season? Will Los Angeles even be able to win games against teams like the Grizzlies, the Warriors or the Clippers, among others? 

It’s not feasible to think that the Lakers, which made the playoffs with 45 wins last year, will make it back.

Last year, Los Angeles had Bryant healthy for nearly the entire season. The Lakers had Howard, who averaged a double-double, and Metta World Peace, who averaged 12.4 points in 33.7 minutes per game. Now, the Lakers have a 32-year-old Bryant coming off major surgery and neither of the latter two players.

The Lakers are just asking to be a lottery team next year, so they can either draft a top prospect or somehow acquire one of the biggest names set to hit the open market. Next season is not going to be a fun year for Laker Nation.

It doesn’t matter when Bryant plays. He has no one around him—case closed.