The Los Angeles Lakers looked like a borderline playoff team at best with superstar Kobe Bryant in the lineup, so even if the Black Mamba returns to action this season as planned, L.A. simply doesn't have enough firepower to make a run at the postseason.
It was already clear heading into the campaign that the 2013-14 season would be a challenging one for Kobe and the Lakers as a whole. Bryant started the season on the shelf after tearing his Achilles just prior to the playoffs last season. He was able to work his way back, but his triumphant return was short-lived.
Per the Los Angeles Times, Bryant suffered a knee fracture on Dec. 17 against the Memphis Grizzlies that is expected to keep him out of action for six weeks:
Kobe Bryant out 6 weeks with knee fracture. Lakers guard just last week returned from lengthy rehab for torn Achilles http://t.co/ifRm2Aj0Oy— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) December 19, 2013
The Lakers are currently 13-16, which places them 12th in the Western Conference. Amusingly enough, they would be a playoff team if they were in the Eastern Conference, but they don't enjoy such a luxury. Los Angeles is stuck in the Western Conference, which just so happens to be stacked with quality teams.
L.A. is three games behind the Dallas Mavericks for eighth place in the Western Conference, and it's very difficult to imagine the Lakers narrowing that gap without Bryant in the coming weeks.
Even so, Bryant's resolve to return is greater than ever. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Kobe has no plans to sit out for the remainder of the season, even with his Lakers struggling.
It's funny; I've read all the comments and things like that. It can't help but feed into my focus. It's obviously not something I wanted to have happen. From that standpoint you have to look at the injury for exactly what it is.
It's going to heal and be as strong as it ever was. I was fortunate that it wasn't a meniscus (tear) or anything else. There is nothing that I have to really do from a recovery standpoint other than to let the bone heal and the fracture heal.
Provided Bryant's injury heals to the point where it only keeps him out for six weeks as expected, some might believe that he can spur the Lakers to a late-season run. The team's problems run much deeper than Bryant, though.
According to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, point guard Steve Nash is out for at least another month with a back injury. In addition, big man Pau Gasol is unhappy with the way he's being utilized in Mike D'Antoni's offense, per the Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke.
The team is overrun by turmoil, and there is only so much Kobe can do. The Lakers barely squeaked into the playoffs last season with Bryant playing nearly a full season and All-Star center Dwight Howard in the fold. Things have only gotten worse since then. Kobe isn't a miracle worker, but a miracle is precisely what the Lakers need right now.
It's no secret that the 35-year-old Bryant isn't the same player he once was. With that said, he still has the potential to take over games when healthy. But unless he takes over essentially every game the Lakers play once he returns, it won't be enough for Los Angeles to make up for its slow start.
Almost every team ahead of the Lakers in the Western Conference standings right now kills L.A. in terms of depth. Some of them may not have a player the caliber of Bryant, but that doesn't matter much when Kobe is receiving little help from the players around him.
Will Kobe Bryant lead the Lakers to the playoffs this season?
Bryant was averaging just under 14 points per game in six contests this season as he tried to work his way back to the level he is accustomed to playing at. Once he returns from his current injury, he'll need even more time to get acclimated.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, they can't afford to ease Bryant back into action. They need him to be dominant as soon as he returns, which is simply an unrealistic expectation.
It's tough to blame Lakers fans for wanting Kobe back as soon as possible since he should make the games watchable at the very least. Making the Lakers into viable playoff contenders is a totally separate issue, though, and it's one that seems nearly impossible at this point.
Bryant will undoubtedly do everything in his power to get back on the court, but the Lakers are a lost cause this season regardless of how long it takes.
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