Kobe Bryant Injury: 4 Reasons Why Time Is Now for Los Angeles Lakers to Rebuild

Jason HeimCorrespondent IDecember 21, 2011

Kobe Bryant Injury: 4 Reasons Why Time Is Now for Los Angeles Lakers to Rebuild

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    Following Kobe Bryant's awkward landing after a shot in Monday's exhibition against the Los Angeles Clippers, an MRI has revealed a torn lunotriquetral ligament in his right shooting wrist, according to a report by ESPNLA's Dave McMenamin.

    Dr. Steven Shin of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic examined Bryant, who will need approximately 3-4 weeks of rest for the ligament to fully heal.

    Don't count on Kobe taking that rest; he's listed as day-to-day and intends to start on Christmas Day as the Lakers open the season against the Chicago Bulls.

    This injury, combined with the present state of the Los Angeles Lakers, raises a question never posed during the reign of No. 24: might Kobe and the team be better served in the long run if the superstar took off a month of an already shortened season?

    It feels like sacrilege to suggest the Lakers softly "tank" this short season in some effort to revamp for another run next season, but the looming goldmine of the 2012 draft class, coupled with the unpalatable Laker reality should make this a legitimate conversation in the Laker front office.

    For the first time in my life as a die-hard Laker fan, I'm wondering whether the Lottery Lakers are better than the Lackluster Lakers. 

    Should Kobe break personal protocol and actually rest an injury? Here are four reasons why the Lakers should make their franchise cornerstone take the time to heal.

Even with Kobe, the Lakers Are Going Nowhere This Season

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    Let's run down a slice of the growing list of reasons why the Lakers are, at present, out of the Western Conference elite.

    First, a few teams are just outright better. The Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs can all claim that distinction, while arguments can also be made for the Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers as well. 

    At best, in my mind, the Lakers are a fourth seed.

    Second, Lamar Odom was quickly jettisoned to the Mavs by Mitch Kupchak without anything in return. Odom is the most unique player in the NBA and carries an extremely favorable contract. The Lakers panicked in the aftermath of the NBA's veto of the Chris Paul trade and cut bait with Odom immediately, the outcome of which makes this team much, much worse than it was two weeks ago.

    Third, the compressed schedule is a serious hindrance to an aging team like the Lakers. Kobe Bryant, playing on iffy knees already, usually trudges through at least one injury without missing games, while Andrew Bynum has failed to play in more than 65 games in any of his four seasons as a starter. Why should that trend be expected to reverse in an even more taxing season?

    Fourth, the Lakers have no depth and no point guard. The fourth, fifth and sixth best players on the roster are Matt Barnes, Josh McRoberts and Ronta World Peacetest, in some order. There is a precipitous drop off between the core and the role players, more than is usual for the Lakers in the Kobe Era. Add in that the two guys sharing minutes at the point guard are Derek Fisher and Steve Blake, and the situation looks all the bleaker.

    These and other reasons illuminate the fact that the Lakers, short of a Dwight Howard or Andre Iguodala trade, are clearly not the championship contender they used to be.

The Lakers Are Too Dependent on a Franchise-Altering Trade Possibility

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    Let's say all-world center Dwight Howard's top priority is becoming a Laker and that he'll do anything he can to make that happen.

    Let's also say that Orlando finds a suitable trade package with the Lakers to agree on.

    Then what?

    The Lakers, according to Orlando's alleged demands, will have to surrender at least both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to acquire Howard, further shallowing out LA's roster in favor of coupling Kobe Bryant with another superstar center in his prime.

    Is this scenario really in the team's best interests for the long run?

    I can't see how giving up two of the NBA's top-10 bigs is worth getting one, even the best, in return.

    The reality is that the preceding two hypotheticals are just that: hypothetical. They're not surefire, bankable likelihoods at this point.

    The New Jersey Nets are hot on Howard's trail and seem much closer than the Lakers to striking a Howard blockbuster. Also, as the Lakers' season gets progressively more desperate toward the trade deadline, the price for Howard will only go up. 

Letting Kobe Play Doesn't Guarantee Better Results

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    Kobe has a knack for playing through painful injuries. It's just one of the qualities that makes him one of the best players of all time.

    He's played through fractured fingers, moderate ankle sprains and fluid-filled knees. His ability to maintain his absurd level of excellence at less than 100 percent health has been a testament to his leadership, selflessness and determination to win.

    Now, at age 33 and entering his 16th season, it's just foolish. His 1,103 regular season and 208 playoff games already place him roughly 15th all time in games played. His 48,000-plus career minutes is one of the top-10 highest totals in NBA history as well. 

    Overall, Kobe has accrued the most mileage of any guard at his age in NBA history, and it's not really that close of a race.

    This is all to say that a lot of the young perimeter players have caught up to Kobe on both sides of the ball. Gone are the days of Kobe blowing by a defender and finishing high at the rim. He can barely get by defenders anymore without at least being slowed down. Even the elevation on his meal-ticket jump shot isn't the same. As a result, open looks off the dribble or face up are much harder to come by than they used to be.

    For Kobe to keep up the pace he's on, with a torn wrist ligament on his shooting hand, just to stay in the lineup during a compressed schedule is nonsense. The Lakers and their star player need to exercise some discretion here, broaden their perspective a little bit and consider what is best for the near and far future.

    Yes, Kobe's days are numbered and he's got scoring and championship records in the back of his mind to cement his legacy. however, that shouldn't get in the way of what's best for his team. 

    That "best" is him on the court at full strength, which is impossible if he opts to play through his latest malady.

The 2012 Lottery Is the Deepest in Recent Memory

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    Not since the 1998 class of Mike Bibby, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Keon Clark has the NBA produced as deep a talent pool as what we'll see in 2012, and the comparison is still very flimsy.

    Next June's lottery will likely include these names in some order: Anthony Davis, Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones, Jared Sullinger, John Henson, Terrence Jones, Andre Drummond, Austin Rivers, Jeremy Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson and Tyler Zeller. A few other college stars are uncertain to make the leap, but very well could be high first-round picks as well.

    Every name on that list represents an NBA-caliber starter's talent. Some of these players will be the new hope and cornerstone of their moribund teams. Some will be All-Stars within a few years. Some will enjoy long NBA careers as starters or role players.

    What is hard to argue is that any one of these players will fail to make a significant impact in the NBA.

    Draft classes this deep and talented come around about once every 20 years, and if I'm Mitch Kupchak, I have one eye on my team and the other on how I can land at least one of the players mentioned above.

    The only avenues Kupchak has to get one of these players are trading his few assets to move up in the draft, or to miss the playoffs this season and "earn" a lottery pick.

    The latter is something the Lakers have done only twice in the last 35 seasons.

    The Lakers will certainly float toward the back end of the West's playoff picture without Kobe for 3-4 weeks. The implication is simply that. If they end up in the unfamiliar lottery by virtue of missing the playoffs, the Lakers might be better off in the future for having secured one of the prodigious talents listed above.