The 2013-14 season has been a massively entertaining one, but one thing has been missing for far too long: Kobe Bryant.
Unfortunately, that's not going to change anytime soon, as the Mamba has officially been ruled out for the rest of the year, thus ending his 18th professional season with only six games under his belt.
A fractured lateral tibial plateau of his left knee, suffered against the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 17, is what did the trick, as it hasn't healed quickly enough for him to join his teammates during the remaining portion of their lackluster campaign.
He'll finish the year watching his team sink toward the best lottery odds the NBA has to offer, and he'll do so with per-game averages of only 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists.
"Obviously this has been a frustrating and disappointing season, but I appreciate all the support I’ve received from the Lakers and the fans, and look forward to being back and ready for the start of training camp,” Bryant told the world via the press release on NBA.com that officially ended his season.
And yes, this news apparently surprised the future Hall of Famer:
Kobe says he didn't come to the final realization his season was over until yesterday.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) March 12, 2014
That tweet from ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin revealed part of what was going through the mind of the Mamba. But fortunately, there's more.
Kobe took the podium during a press conference to react to the news, providing the fans with plenty of optimism.
First things first, though, as he did reveal that he was disappointed in the outcome:
Kobe: "You're disappointed, you want to get out there and play and perform." But said he understands it's nonsensical to push it.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 12, 2014
How could he not be?
This is a man who was made to play competitive basketball, and he's dedicated his life to the sport. Not being able to step out on the court is painful, perhaps even more painful than the injury itself.
That said, Kobe did let the world know that his knee was indeed improving, and he made it quite clear that he intended to return to his pre-injury form. Not pre-knee injury, but pre-Achilles injury:
Bryant on the knee: "It feels all right. Still a ways to go ... I've stepped up the intensity." He's moved from the bike to the elliptical.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 12, 2014
Bryant optimistic because: "The (knee) in comparison to the Achilles is absolutely nothing." Achilles is nearly 12 full months behind him.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 12, 2014
To summarize that last comment, Kobe confidently thinks he will return to full form. He expects many to doubt it, but does not himself.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 12, 2014
Before Kobe tore his Achilles against the Golden State Warriors at the end of the 2012-13 season, he was playing inspired basketball. Even if he hasn't been able to recover since his tendon gave out and had to shoot—and make—two flat-footed free throws, it's tough to doubt the drive of the Mamba.
The press conference included more than just talk about his injury, though:
Kobe not thrilled with direction of the Lakers. "This is not what we play for. This is not what we stand for."— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) March 12, 2014
Part of the reason he's "not thrilled" is rather simple: He doesn't want to waste a year of his career playing for a non-contender, not when the number of years he has left is quickly counting down toward zero.
Lately, it's seemed as though the rebuilding effort won't be completed until the summer of 2015:
Kobe says he expects huge things from Lakers' front office going forward. Says he has "not one lick" of patience for future.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) March 12, 2014
Kobe says that he has no patience for the Lakers front office to take another year to build a contender. He expects changes this summer.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) March 12, 2014
Additionally, Kobe recognizes that change won't only happen on the court.
The entire organization needs an overhaul. Maybe they won't change personnel in the front office or on the sidelines, but at the very least an evaluation is in order.
As far as Kobe is concerned, Jim and Jeanie Buss need to talk, then talk to him:
Kobe wants Jim and Jeanie Buss to figure out their strained relationship. He's not happy to continually be left out of Lakers' future plans.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) March 12, 2014
Regarding Mike D'Antoni, the jury is still out:
Kobe finishes: "And, what's mike going to do? What they want to do with Mike? And then it goes from there, it's got to start at the top."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) March 12, 2014
There's no doubt the Lakers will be in for an interesting offseason. Not only do they have plenty of decisions to make about incumbents—Pau Gasol, D'Antoni and most of the current roster spring to mind—but they'll have to appease Kobe, who seems to be in full possession of a win-now mentality.
And speaking of interesting, would a Kobe press conference really be complete without at least one remark that made you want to just yell out "Zing!" at the top of your lungs?
Kobe on what was going through his head w/t blowout to the Clippers. "Now I know what it feels like to be a Clippers fan all these years."— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 12, 2014
Kobe may be out for the rest of the season, but at least we'll still be granted the occasional quote from him as we all anxiously await his return in 2014-15. And if his words are spoken truthfully and aren't stemming from the optimism needed to counter the despair of being ruled out for the season, he'll be good to go on opening night.