As “The Black Mamba” continues to recover from a fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left leg—which he sustained Dec. 17 against the Memphis Grizzlies—general manager Mitch Kupchak insists that the organization will not pressure the veteran to return quickly, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
“We’re not going to push him to get back,” Kupchak said. “I don’t see why you would. We’ve made a commitment to him for two more years, and I just don’t know why we’d [push him to come back]. But if he feels he’s ready and he’s in shape and he gets the doctor’s approval, then there’s no reason why he couldn’t do that.”
Including a 134-108 blowout loss against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 19, Bryant has missed 30 games since his latest setback (49 games total).
The 35-year-old veteran said during the NBA All-Star break that his recovery is “coming slowly” and that “it’s been a slow process,” per the Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch.
With 54,208 career minutes played (regular season plus playoffs), it’s becoming clear that Bryant’s body is not as resilient as it has been in years past. He’s clocked numerous miles on the odometer, and now Father Time is starting to nip at his heels.
The future Hall of Famer signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension in November before he had played a single minute in 2013-14. Given that the Lakers have invested a huge amount of money in the five-time champion through the 2015-16 season, it makes perfect sense that they don’t intend to rush his recuperation.
The narrative might have been different if the Lakers were competing for a playoff berth in 2014. As it stands, though, they are losers of four straight and have a Western Conference-worst 18-36 record overall—tied with the lowly Sacramento Kings.
The roster has been utterly ravaged by injuries, which led to signings of guards Kendall Marshall and Manny Harris (the latter has since been waived). Plenty of role players are experiencing career years offensively under head coach Mike D’Antoni, but that hasn’t been enough to overcome the league’s 25th-ranked defense and an overall lack of talent.
On top of it all, Kupchak and Co. decided to trade veteran point guard Steve Blake at the 2014 NBA trade deadline to the Golden State Warriors for seldom-used role players Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks.
Bryant wasn’t a fan of the move, to say the least. He took to Twitter to voice his displeasure over losing a close teammate.
Needless to say, the Mamba’s 18th professional season has been a nightmare.
Even if he returns and plays out of his mind, the Lakers are still going to struggle to win games. I wouldn’t blame Bryant for simply focusing on his rehab in order to return at 100 percent for 2014-15, but that isn’t his plan of action.
The two-time NBA scoring champion still has time before deciding to get his feet wet in game action again. It appears that moment will occur later rather than sooner, which is honestly best for Bryant's long-term health.