Lakers Rumors: Kobe Bryant Remains Crucial to Rebuild Despite Injury

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2015

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) drives with the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans. The team announced Bryant's surgery Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, to repair his torn rotator cuff. The surgery has been scheduled for Wednesday morning. A timeline estimate for Bryant’s return will be issued following the surgery. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman, File)
Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

Kobe Bryant's third serious injury in as many years does not derail the Los Angeles Lakers' stubborn, brave rebuilding trajectory.

Like him or not, it is painful to see Bryant, now 36, on the shelf once again as he continues to fight a losing battle with Father Time. Legends like him are just that, legends, and the time for going out on top appears a thing of the past.

Unless he and the Lakers stay the course.

In reality, Bryant remains useful despite shoulder surgery this past Thursday. The world knows Kobe: This is not how he will end his career. He confirmed after the operation to ESPN that next year is his return target:

'Yeah, that's the plan,' Bryant said.

Bryant said his rehab over the next couple of months will involve 'a lot of patience.'

'Sore, but it's OK,' Bryant said of his shoulder.

Bryant said media opinion on whether he should return for a 20th season or retire wouldn't affect his decision.

'I don't really listen much to what people have to say to be honest with you,' Bryant said.

In the meantime, Bryant sounds ready to spearhead the recruiting effort off the court, something he would have done regardless of health.

Mike Bresnahan of Los Angeles Times shares the rumblings:

Call it a holding pattern. The plan continues to be next offseason's free agency and the one after. The young rebuild headlined by Julius Randle is one part of a bigger scheme: the chance to reel in a Kevin Durant or some other superstar down the road.

Bryant doesn't need to be on the court this season to help. He was a shell of his former self, anyway, averaging 20.4 shots and scoring just 22.3 during strange usage by coach Byron Scott.

Recent comments by Mitch Kupchak say it all, per Mike Trudell of Lakers.com:

Free agency is the key.

The Lakers figure to tout a top pick next offseason, although it may be more trade bait than anything. There does not figure to be a top pick in 2016 or 2017 unless he is close to the top of the order, either.

A lack of further incoming young talent means the Lakers will do what they do best: swing for the fences.

Bryant is the deciding factor.

This upcoming offseason, it is one thing to lure a DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, Marc Gasol or even Rajon Rondo to town. It seems imperative, though, that Bryant stress not only the importance of the rebuild and the Laker way but that of his own personal situation.

Superstars do not want to share the spotlight for long, especially with a legend as ingrained as Bryant is with the Lakers. The Dwight Howard debacle is a reference point. As Bryant fades, he likely needs to sell the idea that he will take a back seat. 

Scott, for his part, seems to believe this is in the cards regardless, per Serena Winters of Lakers Nation:

That is a far cry from his 35.4 minutes per game this season through the first 27 games, which led the team.

If Bryant can sell his status, the rest will fall into place. The Lakers are an obvious sell. The cash is there. Budding talent is in place, which will at the very least provide a deep rotation. 

Even the ability to sell the idea of a Durant or Mike Conley coming to town in 2016 will help dramatically improve things in the interim:

In the meantime, the Lakers can continue to develop their young core. Ed Davis is promising. Tarik Black also offers plenty of upside beneath the rim. Jordan Clarkson is worth the time investment.

As it always does, though, the proverbial ball seems to be in Bryant's hands.

This time, he just needs to change his approach for the Lakers to succeed.

 

All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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