Kobe Bryant Plans to Return in 2014, Says 'My Plan Hasn't Changed'

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2014

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 16:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on December 16, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers' season trajectory may have changed, but Kobe Bryant's plan hasn't.

Despite Los Angeles' 18-33 record and nonexistent playoff hopes, the Black Mamba, who has missed the last 25 games nursing a left knee injury, still intends to return this season.

"My plan hasn't changed," Bryant said Sunday, per ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin. "I'm just going about it every single day just trying to get better. That's my job. My job is to get my butt back out there on the court when I'm healthy enough to play and that hasn't changed."

Pleas to the contrary have been met with disdain. In January, Lakers legend—and frequent Lakers doubter—Magic Johnson proposed Bryant shut it down for the entire season.

Bryant does not share Johnson's logic.
Bryant does not share Johnson's logic.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

"He's got to," Johnson explained, via the Los Angeles Times' Mike James. "What is he coming back to? He's not going to be able to stop the pick and roll, all the layups the Lakers are giving up. He's been hurt twice, give him the whole year to get healthy."

Johnson's stance is shared by many.

Bryant isn't coming back to much at all. The Lakers—deliberately or incidentally—are tanking. A postseason appearance is out of the question, and having been injured twice in less than a year, what's the point? Why risk further damage to those 35-year-old knees?

But Bryant doesn't think along those lines.

Although the Lakers have the Western Conference's third-worst record, Bryant's return has always been a formality. Even if the team is tanking and angling toward a top-seven draft pick, he is going to come back. That's who Bryant is.

"It’s my job and responsibility to play," he said in response to Johnson's comments, per the Los Angeles Daily News' Mike Medina.

That holds true even now, when Los Angeles' season is presumed lost.

Playing does put Bryant at risk of aggravating one of his injuries, but it's also necessary. The Lakers have big free-agency plans this summer and next, and a successful return acts as a tacit sales pitch.

Players like 'Melo will be more inclined to play for the Lakers if Kobe proves he's still Kobe.
Players like 'Melo will be more inclined to play for the Lakers if Kobe proves he's still Kobe.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Superstars are more likely to sign with the Lakers if they know or believe Bryant can play at a high level for the last two years of his contract. If he sits out the entire season, doubt arises, which could prove detrimental to the team's ambitious rebuild.

And while Bryant's return could compromise the Lakers' projected draft position, how much of a slide up are we talking about? One slot? Two maybe?

Bryant won't return to play 40 minutes a night and carry the Lakers close to .500. They're still a largely unimpressive group with him.

Not to mention, the Lakers don't look for salvation through the draft. Developing prospects isn't their bag—not when they're attempting to make the most of Bryant's next (last?) two years. 

"It's very, very tough," Bryant said, per McMenamin. "I just try to be patient."

Patience will keep Bryant at bay for now, but it's not going to prevent him from returning this season. For someone like him, that's just not an option.

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