Kobe Bryant Wise Not to Rush Rehab to Return to Lakers Prematurely

Dhiren MahibanFeatured ColumnistOctober 30, 2013

SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 17: Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers sits with the participants during the NBA Cares Special Olympics Clinic as part of the 2013 Global Games on October 17, 2013 at the Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai, China. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

As Kobe Bryant prepares for a return during the 2013-14 NBA season, it would be wise for him to proceed with caution.

Bryant is doing what Bryant does as he answers endless questions about his Achilles injury and a possible return date. In typical Bryant fashion, he expects to be back to normal, if not better, when he finally steps on the court in the 2013-14 season.

He told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday, “I'm going to be the way I've always been. Maybe a little better.  It's always interesting, it's motivating to hear people doubt me. The same guys put the nail in my coffin six years ago. They're still trying."

It is what we’ve come to expect from Bryant. He is using every negative comment to fuel his comeback.

Kobe isn’t in his 20s anymore. He’s 35 years old and coming off a devastating injury, especially for a basketball player whose quick pivots and stop-and-go movements are essential to his game.

Though he’s averaged 38 minutes in three of his past four seasons before going down, there’s no way he’ll be back to that clip this season.

He’s still working on loosening his ankle joint and needs "two to three weeks" of practice time before he can even think about stepping on the court for a game, as he acknowledged with Spears. How can one possibly expect Bryant, who is still working on walking properly, to be back to his pre-injury form this season?

The Lakers are no longer the kings of the Western Conference. With the likes of Houston, Memphis and Golden State all trending upward and San Antonio, Dallas and Oklahoma City already established western powerhouses, the Lakers are likely to be competing for a seventh or eighth playoff spot at best.

Add the fact that 26 of the Lakers' first 45 games to start the season are on the road, and it could get ugly quickly. By the time Christmas rolls around, the Lakers could be well out of contention for a playoff spot.

There’s no sense rushing Bryant back to play for a team that is more likely to qualify for a lottery pick at the 2014 NBA draft than compete for an NBA championship, especially if Bryant is less than 100 percent.

Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle could all be available for the picking for the Lakers. With Bryant not getting any younger, the Lakers could have an opportunity to select a franchise player in the draft and allow him to learn under one of the game’s best during the 2014-15 season.

On the other hand, if the Lakers do manage to stay competitive while Bryant gets back to full health, they'll need him much more down the stretch than during the early part of this season. 

In any case, Bryant’s best course of action is to go slow, proceed with caution and realize that when he does come back, he will have typical Kobe Bryant attention from defenders who will be in midseason form.