Kobe Bryant’s resolve will be tested like never before during the course of the 2013-14 season.
The initial prognosis for his return was somewhere between six and nine months. The former date had him being ready for opening night, while the latter had Bryant rejoining the Purple and Gold a little after Christmas.
The five-time champion made some news when he announced he was shattering the recovery time, and it certainly made for some incredibly positive news in LakerLand.
In addition, Lakers vice president Jim Buss made the proclamation that he expected his 2-guard to suit up for the start of preseason, which in turn resulted in many believing that Bryant would defy science and common sense.
And yet, for all the advancements in modern medicine, the return date for the two-time finals MVP remains uncertain. There is a belief that Bryant’s work ethic coupled with his refusal to acquiesce to Father Time will have him come back sooner rather than later, but that almost seems like wishful thinking.
The four-time All-Star Game MVP admitted to media members he had gained weight and lacked the required conditioning to participate in games. When we take all of this information, it points to a rather harsh reality: Bryant’s body needs more time.
That is a precious commodity that the superstar simply does not possess. The 2013-14 campaign will be his 18th season in the league, and it is clear that the conclusion of his career is approaching.
It will require a gargantuan effort on his part to avoid rushing back to participate in Lakers games. And even then, regardless of the amount of patience he exhibits in allowing his body to properly heal, logic would dictate he will be quite rusty when he retakes the floor.
Bryant has many qualities and virtues, but patience is not one of them. When looking back at the multiple injuries he has faced over the course of his illustrious career, the former league MVP has always rushed back to the lineup.
The Lakers lifer has found ways to cope with the discomfort of his numerous ailments and perform at a high level. One would assume that the Purple and Gold’s starting shooting guard probably feels like he can accomplish this once again with respect to his Achilles injury.
History says otherwise, mind you.
Dr. Douglas Cerynik of Drexel University submitted a paper titled "Performance Outcomes After Repair of Complete Achilles Tendon Ruptures in National Basketball Association Players" where they looked at 18 NBA players who suffered an Achilles injury, and here were their findings:
Seven players never returned to play an NBA game, whereas 11 players returned to play 1 season, with 8 of those players returning for ≥2 seasons. Players who returned missed an average of 55.9 games. The PER [player efficiency rating] was reduced by 4.57 (P = .003) in the first season and by 4.38 (P = .010) in the second season. When compared with controls, players demonstrated a significant decline in the PER the first season (P = .038) and second season (P = .081) after their return.
The research obviously does not yet include Bryant. The Los Angeles king is practically peerless in terms of his dedication to his craft, and also his body is always conditioned to handle the rigors of the regular season and its injuries.
Thus, when Bryant’s name eventually gets included into the research, it might alter some of the findings. However, until that time comes, we must treat the results practically as a precursor for Bryant’s 2013-14 campaign.
Based on the research, the five-time champion will miss more games than ever before and also see his production diminish.
In an attempt to get an idea for the 2-guard’s output in 2013-14, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com looked at Elton Brand (he once ruptured his Achilles as well):
In 2005-06, Brand ranked 6th in the league with a PER of 26.67. The following year, he dropped to 23.16, which was still good for 14th overall. That following summer, Brand suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon, missed all but eight games in 2007-08 and has never recorded a PER better than 18.5 since.
To be fair, the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer has reinvented his game on a few occasions to offset the decrease in his athleticism. Thus, there is a chance he will be able to do just that and find ways to contribute despite the Achilles injury. That will take time, though.
Bryant has not been able to actually work on his game or play basketball during the offseason, which means he is several steps behind in terms of his workout regimen.
Combine that with the fact that the 15-time All-Star might be sidelined for half the season, and it becomes abundantly clear that 2013-14 will be the most trying season of Bryant’s career.
Ultimately, the face of the Lakers franchise will play around 50 to 60 games in his first year post-injury in the best of circumstances. His minutes will take a dip and so will his production, but the expectation is that he will once again play at a high level.
He will just have to be patient and wait until he is completely healed before he can enjoy the individual success he once had. That means Bryant will have nights where he will look very limited, but it is what’s best for the remainder of his career.
2013-14 promises to be interesting, but the season will definitely be the hardest Bryant has ever participated in.