Kobe Bryant Return: Lakers Smart to Delay Mamba's Return Yet Again

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 1, 2013

SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 18:  Kobe Bryant warms up before the NBA match between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors on October 18, 2013 in Shanghai, China. 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 Kevin Lee/Getty Images)
Kevin Lee/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are right to tread lightly with Kobe Bryant's status.

The 35-year-old has yet to play in a game this season while he recovers from an Achilles injury. Every time it seems we get closer to the Black Mamba's return, it is delayed once again.

Despite a full practice from Bryant on Saturday, he will not make his return to the court Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers per the team's official Twitter account:

The news makes plenty of sense. First of all, it meshes well with Bryant saying just days ago he feels "probably weeks" from return, per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:

Second, the franchise just opened its wallet in a big way for its leader in games (1,239), steals (1,828), points (31,617) and various other categories:

Third—what about chemistry?

Right now, the Lakers sit one game above .500 at 9-8 after consecutive wins over Brooklyn and Detroit. The team's only crutch to lean on without Bryant has been Pau Gasol. Los Angeles' standing in the Pacific is just fine at respectable third with the Suns and Clippers within reach.

What happens when Bryant returns and the chemistry and lineups developed in his absence go out the window?

Nine players currently average eight or more points. Even when Bryant is ready to return, that's a type of efficiency that may be inadvisable to break up.

Not to imply he shouldn't. Of course, Bryant will return at some point. The good-faith gesture of a $48.5 million extension ensures it. When he does, Bryant will be eager to prove the injury that would have forced most into retirement, is only the latest hurdle on his epic run.

But for now, the Lakers have nothing to gain by rushing Bryant back. The team is playing well enough, Bryant needs more practice time before hitting the court and with it being so early in the season, it's pointless to risk his health when the team will need him for the long haul.

When Bryant does return, he needs to be on a minutes count. Not just so the medical staff can monitor his progress, but so he has fresh legs late in the season when it matters.

For now, we're stuck wondering when Bryant will return. When he does, the conversation will turn to how he is handled. More importantly, it will turn to how he positively or negatively impacts the team.

Perhaps it's best to delay the inevitable.

For now.

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