EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — If you’re not accustomed by now to Kobe Bryant sitting out and the Los Angeles Lakers losing, weeks more are still to come.
The fractured lateral tibial plateau in Bryant’s left knee hasn’t healed yet, even though the Lakers had initially been pointing to a medical re-evaluation Tuesday as a point at which he might be cleared to play. Bryant’s level of discomfort is such that his visit with Lakers doctor Steve Lombardo on Tuesday evening before the Lakers face the Indiana Pacers will not even include an MRI or any other diagnostic procedure to judge the bone’s healing, according to a team source.
Bryant is expected to miss at least two more weeks, perhaps even another month.
The Lakers are 4-16 since Bryant’s knee fracture was diagnosed and will struggle to turn that around without him, although injured point guards Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar might be back next week.
Bryant has been reluctant to start the Feb. 16 All-Star Game in New Orleans after being voted in by the fans. That matter seems likely now to resolve itself: If Bryant isn’t back for the Lakers by then, he won’t have to play at all in the All-Star Game and the NBA will name an injury replacement for him. If Bryant misses another two weeks exactly, that would leave two Lakers games for him to play before the All-Star break.
Bryant’s original diagnosis was to miss approximately six weeks; Thursday marks six weeks from that announcement.
And for a guy who prides himself on beating every doctor’s time prognosis—if he is willing to sit out in the first place—this has been awfully rough on Bryant.
Bryant said Sunday in New York that it is “absolutely killing” him not to be medically cleared for anything beyond conditioning work on a bike. He has been reluctant to answer questions directly about his knee in a series of interview sessions over the past week, saying vaguely he’ll be re-evaluated “in February.” But what he and his fans hoped would be an inspirational comeback season from the torn left Achilles tendon he suffered April 12 has eroded into a whole lot of Bryant sitting around, wincing at the end of the bench at Lakers losses and wearing colorless clothes that represent his basketball lifelessness.
Bryant’s initial tweet after the broken bone was discovered—“#BrokenNotBeaten”—isn’t holding up in another sense: Bryant’s team has been beaten an awful lot without him. The Lakers are now 16-29, nine-and-a-half games out of the Western Conference playoff picture.
Whether the Lakers’ other former NBA MVP can change any of that remains to be seen. A bearded Nash, looking fresh out of a Rocky workout montage, said Monday that he might actually be good to go. Like Bryant, he has played only six games this season—although the two of them have never played together—because of a major nerve-root issue in his back that has limited his legs.
“I don’t feel the nerve irritation,” Nash said Monday after returning from his latest extended rehab session in Vancouver. “Thus far, as I’ve ramped up training and rehab, I’ve been able to sustain more and more demands, so that we feel like it’s safe to practice now.”
But in a scene that epitomized everything about Nash’s two seasons as a Laker, he had only a handful of minutes of optimism Monday morning about his progress before another setback.
“Woke up, jumped out of bed, ready to go,” he said. “I reached for something and kind of tweaked something.”
So much for Nash’s plans to get back on the practice court Monday.
At least Farmar, coming off of his second hamstring tear, was able to get on the court Monday for some one-on-one with the possibility of playing next week, when the Lakers play three road games in four nights—still without Bryant.
Nash said the tweak, unrelated to the nerve irritation, is “fine” and he intends to go through Lakers practice Thursday, though he doesn’t expect to play Friday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, the Lakers’ last game before that trip to Minnesota, Cleveland and Philadelphia begins next Tuesday.
Given that primary villain Dwight Howard is gone, Nash and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni have been left to bear the brunt of the blame for how far the team fell short of the epic expectations last season before this dead-end season.
Plenty of Lakers fans just hope Nash retires, refunding the Lakers the money they still owe him next season. Even if Nash doesn’t, the Lakers can waive Nash this offseason via the stretch provision in the collective bargaining agreement and lower their salary-cap number that way.
Let’s be clear, though: You can blame Nash for his body failing, but that MVP drive has never wavered. He has absolutely been trying.
“Steve Nash always inspires me,” D’Antoni said Monday. “This is just another chapter.”
It’d be one of the few uplifting moments of this Lakers season to see Nash, who was and will be a basketball legend no matter how his time with the Lakers is remembered, make it back before his 40th birthday, when the Lakers play the 76ers on Feb. 7.
Nash truly wants to keep playing if his body will allow it, and after months of depressing updates on his health, he finally could say Monday it feels “great” to have hope again.
“Just to have a chance maybe to play is awesome,” Nash said. “I’ve put in so much work over the last nine months, really. I’m hoping to get out there.”
That sort of sentimental journey is the gist of what is left for the Lakers to enjoy this season.
Bryant making it back from this knee fracture to strut some great stuff before season’s end could still serve as inspiration—and reassurance for free agents who will consider joining the Lakers this summer and want to win.
Yet Bryant’s latest comeback remains on hold for now.
And however long he stays out carries other repercussions beyond this season. The Lakers could wind up losing so much that they land a plum pick from the 2014 draft class that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak described to the team’s website this way: “I would say one through 10 is as good as I've seen in a long time.”
The prospect of all of this Kobe-less losing contributing to a higher draft slot is all that many Lakers fans have to sustain them.
Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.