Although this hasn’t been the season the Los Angeles Lakers had hoped for, the past week has given the team plenty to be optimistic about.
From Jodie Meeks’ unexpected contribution to the possibility of Pau Gasol returning next year, a lot has gone down involving the Lakers. Believe it or not, the possibility of Kobe Bryant sitting out the remainder of the season could be a good thing.
All in all, there are several big topics to cover around Los Angeles.
Kobe On Shelf for Rest of the Season?
One of the most frustrating parts of an overall disappointing 2013-14 campaign for Lakers fans has got to be the uncertainty of whether or not Bryant will return this season.
After suffering a torn Achilles tendon last year, the 16-time NBA All-Star returned to action briefly in December. Unfortunately, only six games into his return, Bryant suffered a fractured tibia in the same leg on Dec. 17.
Initially expected to miss four weeks, Bryant is closing in on 12 weeks since his last action. He’s expected to be reevaluated on March 14, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
Count Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Derek Fisher—who played with Bryant in Los Angeles for 13 seasons—as someone who remains optimistic about the circumstances:
Derek Fisher on Kobe’s injuries (1/2): “For Kobe, we played together, seems like a lifetime & so it’s very personal to me especially…"— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) March 9, 2014
(2/2): “knowing how hard [Kobe] works to be at his best, that he’s not there right now. I have no doubt he'll be back there again very soon"— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) March 9, 2014
It’s very likely Bryant would be able to suit up before the season is over. But the real question is: Would it be worth it?
By the time March 14 comes around, the Lakers would only have 17 games remaining.
With a playoff run out of the question, it would be pointless to risk another setback for Bryant this season. Plus, at 22-42, Los Angeles is in great shape for a high pick in what should be a deep draft class.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak doesn’t seem keen on risking the future.
“We’re not going to push him to get back,” Kupchak said, via McMenamin’s report. “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 do that [push him to come back].”
The best-case scenario here is just to let Bryant rest and get back to 100 percent.
Meeks Reacts to Big Day
Count Meeks as one of the few Los Angeles players making the most of his playing time during this disappointing season.
The 26-year-old punctuated a career year by putting in a dominating effort during the team’s 114-10 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. In 37 minutes, he rattled off a career-high 42 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the field (6-of-11 from three-point range).
But if that weren't impressive enough, Meeks also outscored the Thunder by himself in the third quarter—20 to 19.
“I got to the free-throw line in the second half to get me going and knocked down a couple shots,” Meeks said, per Lakers.com’s Trevor Wong. “And that’s really all it takes when you’re in a rhythm like that.”
It’s just the latest highlight in a remarkable 2013-14 campaign for the four-year veteran. Through 59 games, he’s averaging career highs in minutes (32.7), field-goal percentage (46.3), three-point percentage (39.9), points (15.3), assists (1.6), rebounds (2.6) and steals (1.4).
Although Meeks may not drop 40 points again anytime soon, he’s definitely established himself as a go-to guy for the Lakers. Since the All-Star break, he’s averaged 19.1 points on 51.4 percent shooting in 11 games.
Meeks has given Los Angeles a consistent scorer again. Something the team has lacked with Bryant on the bench.
Gasol Could Return Next Year
Other than Bryant ($24.25 million) and Steve Nash ($9.7 million), the Lakers don’t have much on the salary cap next season.
With all that, the team is expected to make a splash during free agency. But could one of those splashes include bringing back Gasol?
According to Lakersnation.com’s Matthew Moreno, that’s a very good possibility:
During Thursday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher stated on the TNT broadcast that he spoke with Kobe Bryant prior to the game and asked him who he could “envision” on next year’s team.
Bucher reported that Bryant included Pau Gasol’s name, which the reporter said “surprised” him. Bucher further pressed Bryant, asking how confident the five-time champion is on a scale of one to 10, that Gasol will be with the Los Angeles Lakers next season, to which Bryant responded “eight.”
Unfortunately, though, Bryant isn’t the one who will ultimately make that decision.
If Los Angeles could bring back Gasol, that would be a positive for the team. Through 54 games, the 33-year-old has averaged 17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
It’s easily been his most productive season since 2010-11.
But the Lakers will have to tread carefully on how they approach the topic. If the team still has interest to chase Kevin Love during the 2015 free agency window, keeping Gasol more than a year might not be an option.
Either way, it’s an encouraging sign to hear Bryant’s optimism.