Get the artillery ready and man your battle stations, because the Los Angeles Lakers are one move away from entering full-tank mode. That one move is shutting down Kobe Bryant for the rest of the 2013-14 season.
Injuries have limited him to just six games this season, with that fractured tibia keeping him out since mid-December. Getting back was always going to be a grueling process for Bryant, and it's been made more difficult by the fact that he's facing a major setback.
Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com reported earlier in the week that he'll be out for a minimum of three more weeks than previously thought:
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was examined by team physician Dr. Steve Lombardo on Friday, and it was determined the 18-year veteran will be sidelined another three weeks before being re-evaluated because of continued pain, swelling and soreness in his injured left knee.
Missing three more weeks before another evaluation brings the calendar to March 14, at which point there will be only 17 games left in the regular season for the Lakers. And even if Bryant is cleared for contact drills at that point, he would assuredly need some additional practice time before he could make a return.
Earlier in the season, the idea of getting shut down for the rest of the season was anathema to Kobe. Back in January, he said, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
“The only thing I can afford to consider is getting better and getting strong,” Bryant said before the Lakers (14-25) played the Celtics (14-26) on Friday at TD Garden. “I can’t allow myself to think any other way. I can only think about the next day. To do anything else becomes distracting. You don’t allow yourself because you give yourself wiggle room not to push yourself as hard as you possibly can. If I think I’m going to sit out, this, that and the other, then the motivation is gone. I refuse to let that happen.”
Nobody's ever questioned Bryant's desire to win at all costs, but discretion would be the better part of valor in these circumstances.
This is Kobe's 18th season in the league. When you take into account his 220 playoff games, two summers with the Olympic team and transition right from high school to the pros, you get a player with about 20-plus years of basketball taking a toll on his body.
The injury to Derrick Rose proved that taking time off is no guarantee of future health, but in Bryant's case, you're at least hedging your bets that taking more time off is better for his body than rushing back too early.
Live to fight another day.
Charles Barkley made it very clear what he thought a month earlier on TNT, when he said that the Lakers should take their star off the court for the remainder of the 2013-14 season.
"With or without him, the Lakers suck either way," he said (via Ben Golliver of The Point Forward). "It’s not like they’re world-beaters. When he comes back in six weeks, they’ll be even more out of it."
At this point, there's nothing to be gained from bringing back Bryant some time in March. The Lakers aren't going to get out of the cellar in the Western Conference, and there won't be enough time in the regular season for him to lead a playoff push.
So the team can be a little more competitive for a month, and then it's all over. Los Angeles would be right back where it was before—terrible. The only differences are that its draft position may have been hurt, and Bryant would be at risk for another injury.
This is the Lakers we're talking about. They don't need to present the idea that they can be competitive again in order to become an attractive destination for free agents in the future. They're one of the most successful franchises in league history.
If anything, L.A. is better served by embracing the fact that it's awful this year and building through the draft, as the best teams in the league have done, sans the Miami Heat. Continue working to 2015 and 2016 and stop limping along in the present.
It's a tough time to be a Lakers fan. Sometimes, the bad has to come before the good. There would be no better indicator that the organization is ready to rebuild than shutting down its one remaining legend.