How Early Kobe Bryant Return Would Jump-Start LA Lakers' Season

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 07:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the NBA game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on April 7, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  The Clippers defeated the Lakers 109-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are growing confident that Kobe Bryant will return for preseason action in mid-October, which could mean a jump-start to a downtrodden L.A. squad much earlier than expected.

Jim Buss was interviewed on NBA TV during a Los Angeles Lakers-Milwaukee Bucks summer-league game, and he told everybody watching that Bryant was far ahead of schedule:

Well, we're in Vegas, and I would bet a lot of money that this guy comes back probably in preseason. He's real sharp in taking care of himself and he's not going to rush anything just to get back and prove a point. He's going to come back when he's right. He's a machine. He's inhuman. I see him coming back at the beginning of this season. I can't believe how much he's progressed so far.

The early projection for Bryant's return was anywhere from six-to-nine months. That six-month mark would land him back in purple and gold right in the middle of preseason play.

Bryant was aiming for a return sometime in November, or December at the latest, so it is a bit surprising that Buss is talking about a comeback before the regular season even starts.

This news does two things for Los Angeles: It gives credence to the moves the Lakers made this offseason and it improves their chances to make the playoffs.

With Bryant potentially missing a month of playing time or more, it made more sense for the Lakers to part with their remaining players for youth and draft picks, while letting Bryant take his time recovering.

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Instead, the Lakers watched as Dwight Howard hightailed it out of Los Angeles and responded by signing veteran center Chris Kaman, former Laker Jordan Farmar, former Top Five pick Wesley Johnson and USC alum Nick Young.

While they aren't huge moves, they are attempts to surround Kobe, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash with productive players in an effort to make an apparent playoff push. That push has the best chance of working out if they have a healthy, productive Bryant for most of the year.

That's where Bryant's early return comes into play.

An assumption that we're going to have to make is that Bryant will need to work his way back into shape once the season starts.

That's not to say he'll be out of shape, just that his first few months will be centered around adjusting to his post-surgery ankle. Improving flexibility, trusting its strength and learning to move deftly once again will take time. The earlier he returns to the court, the quicker he'll get back to playing like his old self.

He now has a built-in buffer to ease his way back into action, which probably won't exist if he returns in November or December.

Instead of jumping in with both feet and possibly being forced to save the Lakers from a slow start, Bryant has the first month of the season to take it relatively easy on his ankle and limit himself.

That should greatly reduce his risk of being reinjured (unless he's rushing back in the first place), and make him stronger sooner than we imagined.

Whatever your perception of the Lakers, it's hard to deny that a team with a healthy Bryant, Gasol and Nash in its starting lineup wouldn't be in contention for the playoffs.

Should the injury bug keep biting, however, the Lakers will be hard-pressed to find a way into the postseason.

They struggled to make the playoffs in 2013 while injuries ravaged the lineup from top to bottom, and they had Howard as opposed to Kaman for that push.

Not only are they forced to deal with Bryant's ankle, but Gasol, Nash and Kaman missed a combined 81 games in 2013 as well.

There are grave concerns, but at the very least, a healthy Bryant during training camp is a first step in the right direction.


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