The Los Angeles Lakers disastrous season will end in even more disappointing fashion than previously thought as Kobe Bryant has been ruled out for the remainder of the regular season, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com:
Dave McMenamin of ESPN had more information on the decision to rule Bryant out:
Lakers confirm, Kobe Bryant is out for the rest of the 2013-14 season. Was re-evaluated by team physician Dr. Steve Lombardo Weds morning— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) March 12, 2014
The news was originally reported by Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:
Following the announcement, Bryant spoke about the news (via Ding):
Kobe statement: "Obviously this has been a frustrating and disappointing season, but I appreciate all the support I’ve received...— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) March 12, 2014
"...from the Lakers and the fans, and look forward to being back and ready for the start of training camp."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) March 12, 2014
Gary Vitti, the Lakers' trainer, also spoke about next season and Bryant's status for the beginning of the campaign (via Ding):
Lakers trainer Gary Vitti on Kobe: "We look forward to him being 100 percent for the start of next season.”— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) March 12, 2014
The 35-year-old shooting guard returned to the lineup briefly in December after recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in April 2013, but was forced back to the sideline after just six games because of a fractured lateral tibial plateau near his knee.
Kobe Bryant will not need surgery on his leg fracture, league source tells @CBSSports: "The bone will heal."— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) December 19, 2013
The injury, which occurred on Dec. 17, was only supposed to keep Bryant out for six weeks. However, persistent pain and swelling in the knee has forced the five-time NBA champion to continue his rehab.
Bryant recently spoke about the injury, expressing his frustration over the lengthy recovery process, per Kustoo.com's Jacques Slade via Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina:
It’s progressing slowly. It really tests my patience. There’s only so much I can do. I find myself relegated to a bike. The first few weeks, it’s cool. I’m getting a good workout in. Third or fourth, I’m thinking I need to do something else. I want to play. I want to run.
With Bryant being shutdown for the rest of the year, 2013-14 will mark the first season in his 18-year NBA career that he's missed more than 17 regular-season games.
The Lakers's struggles on the court certainly reflect that. At 22-42, L.A. is currently tied with the Sacramento Kings for the worst record in the Western Conference. Injuries to other key players haven't helped either, per ESPN's Arash Markazi:
Since April 13, 2013, Kobe Bryant & Steve Nash have played in 16 combined games and 0 games together.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) March 12, 2014
Bryant's slow recovery is especially discouraging for the Lakers front office, who signed him to a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension last November. According to Spotrac.com, the deal will pay the 16-time All-Star $23.5 million next season and $25 million in 2015-16.
What's more, Bryant will turn 36 in August. And although there's no doubt he's still one of the most clutch players in NBA history, it remains to be seen how effective he'll be when he returns to the court or whether he'll ever be 100 percent healthy and confident from a physical standpoint.
Keep in mind that he's played in 1,245 regular-season games and 220 playoff contests since being drafted back in 1996.
So while Bryant and Lakers will be optimistic with an entire offseason to recover and retool for a title run in 2014-15, there are no guarantees that the face of the franchise will return at the same level Lakers Nation and NBA fans are accustomed to seeing on a nightly basis.
Shutting Bryant down for the final 18 games of a lost season is without a doubt the right decision, but it also means the veteran superstar's body isn't responding to treatment as previously anticipated.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.