Bryant tears a ligament, will pass on surgery

Playing through
Despite a hand injury, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant drives to the basket during the second quarter of a basketball game in Atlanta.
(John Bazemore / AP)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Kobe Bryant has a torn ligament in his right pinkie but has decided not to have surgery that would sideline him for six weeks, the Lakers said Thursday.

Bryant initially hurt his finger Feb. 5 in a game against New Jersey. The injury was originally listed as a dislocated pinkie, although further damage was revealed Thursday, including a complete tear of the radial collateral ligament and an avulsion fracture, in which a small fragment of bone was pulled off by a tendon.

Bryant, who saw hand specialist Steven Shin in Los Angeles on Thursday, will try to play through the injury instead of having surgery. If he opted for surgery, he would face a six-week recovery process.

“My current thinking is to give my finger some treatment and rest for a few days, and hope I can still continue to compete at a high level after that rest,” Bryant said in a statement. “I would prefer to delay any surgical procedure until after our Lakers season, and this summer’s Olympic Games. But this is an injury that myself and the Lakers’ medical staff will just have to continue to monitor on a day-to-day basis.”

Bryant, who is averaging 28 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists, will play in Sunday’s All-Star game in New Orleans, league spokesman Tim Frank said. Bryant will not take part in Saturday’s three-point competition and has been replaced by Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki.

Bryant was initially injured when his pinkie was bent back against the arm of Jason Kidd while Bryant was trying to steal a pass against New Jersey.

The pinkie was aggravated when guard Rashad McCants hit it as Bryant went for a rebound Wednesday against Minnesota.

“We’ll do everything we can to get him the rest he needs,” General Manager Mitch Kupchak said.

“We support him in his decision. But a week or two down the road, if it gets hit again or if it just doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean he won’t have surgery.”

Bryant’s injury is the latest to hit the Lakers, who are not expected to get back center Andrew Bynum (knee) or forward Trevor Ariza (foot) until at least mid-March. Center Chris Mihm underwent surgery Wednesday to remove a screw in his surgically repaired right foot and is not expected back for six weeks.

“All we can do is forge ahead,” Kupchak said. “As often as we’ve had these types of [injury] reports this year, it’s part of what we do. General managers always use the phrase, ‘If everyone stays healthy . . . ' but it’s true.”

Bryant was off the mark after hurting his pinkie in New Jersey, making only seven of 29 shots (24.1%) against the Nets and Atlanta. He has since shot better, making 37 of 76 attempts (48.7%) and averaging 32.3 points in the Lakers’ last four games, all victories. For the season, Bryant is shooting 45.7%.

Lakers trainer Gary Vitti changed the tape job on Bryant’s finger after the Atlanta game, making it thicker between the webbing of his ring and pinkie fingers.

Either way, Bryant will try to avoid surgery.

“He’s one tough kid,” Kupchak said. “It’s tough to imagine him taking a day off under any circumstances.”

The Lakers (35-17) will have had four days off before reconvening for practice Monday morning. Their first game after the All-Star break is Tuesday against Atlanta.

Bryant was apparently correct when he said more than two weeks ago that people were being “ridiculous” for saying the Lakers’ nine-game trip would be like “Murderers’ Row.”

The Lakers went 7-2 and were openly irritated they didn’t go 9-0, kicking themselves for late-game breakdowns in close losses to Detroit and Atlanta.

“We honestly believe we could have gone 9-0,” Bryant said after Wednesday’s 117-92 victory over Minnesota.

Pau Gasol’s appearance in the last six games was an obvious boost for the Lakers -- and for Gasol as well.

He has averaged 20.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists a game with the Lakers, who are 5-1 with him. Memphis, meanwhile, is 1-5 since trading Gasol.

“What’s not to like?” Gasol said. “I like everything about it. I think we have an amazing team. Everything around here is just at another level, at a level I haven’t had a chance to experience in my career here in the NBA.”

Bryant won’t be the only member of the Lakers in New Orleans for All-Star weekend.

Second-year guard Jordan Farmar will take part in the rookie-sophomore challenge today.

Farmar flew Thursday morning from Minneapolis to New Orleans, extending what would have been a 15-day stay away from home.

He said he was both excited and exhausted.

“It’s an honor to be there,” he said. “I’ll be back home soon enough, but I definitely miss it.”

Rookie guard Coby Karl on Thursday was sent down to the D-Fenders, the Lakers Development League affiliate, for a second time this season.

Karl was averaging 1.3 points in 11 games with the Lakers. He averaged 18.3 points in 10 games with the D-Fenders.

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