The Los Angeles Lakers have been dealing with a plethora of serious injuries to key players throughout the season, but the most devastating happened on January 21 against the New Orleans Pelicans. All-Star guard Kobe Bryant suffered a right shoulder injury that ultimately ended his season.
Making matters worse, the recovery from his rotator cuff surgery appears to be longer than previously anticipated. At first, Bryant was thought to have a recovery time of roughly six months; however, that time period appears to be increased to nine months, according to a statement from the team. Bill Oram of the Orange County Register tweeted the news:
Bill Oram @billoram
Lakers statement on Kobe Bryant surgery http://t.co/LYPilGfNIE2015-1-28 23:23:32
That's not a good omen for a 12-34 Lakers team that is struggling to find its identity. After all, this team is in a rebuilding mode, and if Bryant would opt to leave Los Angeles following his most recent injury, the Lakers organization would find itself in complete disarray.
Luckily, there's some good news. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times tweeted some interesting gossip from people close to Bryant:
Mike Bresnahan @Mike_Bresnahan
Those around Kobe say he is definitively coming back to play next season. Doesn't want to go out like this.2015-1-26 21:33:29
Even head coach Byron Scott appears confident regarding Bryant's potential return, according to a tweet from Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com:
Baxter Holmes @BaxterHolmes
Byron on Kobe: "In my mind he's coming back next year, unless he tells me something different."2015-1-28 20:08:29
So, here's the burning question: What should we expect from Los Angeles while Bryant recuperates?
Well, first of all, expectations must certainly be tempered for the remainder of the season. The Lakers are currently fifth in the Pacific Division and don't have the available talent to dig themselves out of such a massive hole. In fact, the team is currently riding a nine-game losing streak and is just one more loss away from tying the longest drought in team history, according to Holmes.
That said, the remainder of the season should reflect more of a talent evaluation than anything. This team needs to make decisions about the roles of some key players going forward.
One such player is Nick Young. The always-confident small forward had this to say following the news of Bryant's season-ending injury:
NBA on ESPN @ESPNNBA
Have no fear, Swaggy P is here! Nick Young thinks he is ready to step up in Kobe's absence... http://t.co/lmnSNMcFfC http://t.co/5fWfSC6gbp2015-1-27 00:18:33
That's quite a bold statement from a player who is shooting just 37.3 percent from the floor and currently resides in his coach's doghouse. Here's what Scott had to say about Young after benching the forward following his lackluster first-half performance Sunday against the Houston Rockets, via theScore:
Lakers coach on benching Nick Young: 'It looked to me that he didn't want to be here.' http://t.co/rmvTRYIcRP http://t.co/AjFrMojIjr2015-1-26 14:17:15
The remainder of the season will certainly dictate what kind of future Young has with the Lakers.
In the meantime, Los Angeles will likely get a much closer look at Jeremy Lin. Scott held Lin out of Friday's contest against the San Antonio Spurs, and perhaps that lit a fire under the guard. He's been inconsistent this season, but he's shown signs of improvement lately, showcasing a more aggressive attitude on the court and the willingness to facilitate during his last two games.
Lin is now averaging 10.5 points and 4.6 assists per game this season while shooting 42.8 percent from the floor. We'll see if he can continue to gain the approval of his head coach or if he'll be pushed to the back burner in favor of Jordan Clarkson and Ronnie Price.
Aside from deciding the future roles of those two players, the Lakers should also be expected to be players in free agency during the summer. Since Bryant is expected to return to the team, he will also be active in the recruiting process during the free-agency period, according to a tweet from Bresnahan:
Mike Bresnahan @Mike_Bresnahan
Source: Kobe will also be active in free-agent recruiting for the Lakers, including pitches to possible future teammates in July.2015-1-26 21:34:31
There's plenty of star power set to hit the open market this summer, and Bryant is the team's best chance of recruiting the necessary personnel to finally right the ship in Los Angeles. After all, once Bryant recovers, his playing time will be limited, according to Scott, who also alluded to having a rotation capable of relieving the guard, via Serena Winters of Lakers Nation:
Serena Winters @SerenaWinters
Scott guesstimating what the ideal scenario is for Kobe next yr: "mid to low 20s minutes wise but you've got to have some horses to do that"2015-1-28 20:12:21
If that estimate comes to fruition, it would be quite a dip from Bryant's career average of 36.5 minutes per game and even a severe drop from his average of 34.5 minutes this season.
The future isn't exactly looking bright in Los Angeles, as this former powerhouse continues to display a massive amount of futility that doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon. The only hope for this team to right the ship is a full recovery for Bryant and a significant amount of changes during the offseason.