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Evaluating Kobe Bryant's Options in Wake of Latest Devastating Injury

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterJanuary 24, 2015

USA Today

SAN ANTONIO — When Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon, he memorably went in for surgery the very next day.

He is not ready to be that certain this time around, even though the options aside from surgery on his torn rotator cuff are pretty undesirable.

1. Play with it torn.

Those of you thinking that it is not even an option don’t know the way this guy thinks.

The tear is too significant to believe it will heal in a meaningful way without surgery. And the tear is not in Bryant’s non-shooting shoulder, just like it wasn't for his friend Carmelo Anthony, who opted against rotator cuff surgery in 2013.

But Bryant has real faith in his ability to navigate pain. If there are ways for Bryant to manage that somewhat, it might make sense if Bryant plans to play only one more season. There is an obvious upside to avoiding surgery in your dominant arm and the six-month rehab, especially after so much rehab grind in recent years.

2. Leave it torn…and retire now.

Besides turning down a league-high $25 million salary, Bryant would be going out on terms dictated by misfortune and injury. Unlikely.

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Which brings us back to the option of surgery.

3. Have surgery and try to return for the start of next season.

Bryant has not accepted that surgery is clearly the right decision, even though he is unlikely to be presented with any new options upon meeting with Neal ElAttrache on Monday, the surgeon who put Bryant’s Achilles back together in 2013. (ElAttrache, the Los Angeles Dodgers physician, also repaired the rotator cuffs of both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone on the same day, according to the Los Angeles Times).

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Bryant might even take more time to ponder his decision after talking to ElAttrache. There are other issues at work in this, from playing catch with his softball-playing daughters to whether Bryant will extend his career past 2016 to get more bang for his buck from surgery and this rest.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott does not believe Bryant’s love for the game is in any question right now, despite all the losses, so much soreness and now this shoulder injury.

Bryant was so invested in the process that he and Scott regularly exchanged late-night text messages trying to come up with ideas for improving the team.

“He’s still competitive as hell,” Scott said. “After games, I think we did a pretty good job as far as calming each other down at times.

“He still loves to compete. He still loves playing. He still loves that challenge. I haven’t seen that change at all.”

Eric Gay/Associated Press

With Bryant’s mind willing but his body not, the question becomes whether he still believes his body might hold up better in another try from all he has learned in pushing it this season.

A lot changes for the Lakers if Bryant decides not just to play next season but another beyond that. Management is already trying to decide whether to accept a longer team rebuilding process or short-cut it with gambles on non-superstar veterans.

Scott moved quickly to analyze part of the future Friday night by starting the club’s past two second-round picks, Ryan Kelly and Jordan Clarkson—both of whom the Lakers believe have legit careers ahead of them. There’s no doubt the Lakers need to deprioritize Bryant now that his body keeps limiting him.

Many of the Lakers’ decisions in the recent past have been dictated by the championship window, first for Shaquille O’Neal, next for Bryant. If there is no older player the Lakers are hoping the team can maximize, then the willingness to be patient with the likes of Julius Randle and perhaps a 2015 high pick increases.

However, Lakers vice president Jim Buss has put pressure on himself to turn the team around quickly, so it’s obvious the Lakers’ preference is to get proven free-agent talent and put themselves in position to trade whatever assets they have to compete as soon as possible. It’s no secret that having Bryant as a player and mentor in 2016-17 would improve the team.

For now, though, Bryant’s own decisions are also complicated. He hopes they’ll become clearer as he ponders.

If he decides on surgery, then it’ll be on again: Kobe’s Comeback, Part III.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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