The Times’ Lakers beat reporter Mike Bresnahan looks at some key questions as Kobe Bryant and the Lakers deal with the superstar’s recovery following surgery to repair his ruptured Achilles’ tendon.
1. How realistic is it that Kobe Bryant will be back in six to nine months, which is the Lakers’ official timetable?
I’d say closer to nine months than six. Put him down for a return right around Christmas. He’ll be the first to let me know if I’m wrong.
2. If the Lakers make the playoffs, how far can they go without Bryant?
In a seven-game series, can a team be swept in three?
Even with Bryant, there wasn’t much chance against Oklahoma City or San Antonio, despite what Magic Johnson said about the Lakers probably beating the Spurs (sure, Earvin, sure).
Without Bryant, they’re a first-round sweep waiting to happen … if they even get beyond Thursday’s regular-season finale.
3. Could his injury have been caused by playing too many minutes?
By all medical accounts, Achilles’ tendon injuries are freak accidents.
Could happen a minute into the season opener. Could happen during pregame warmups on Christmas. Could happen with 3:08 left in the 80th game of the season for a player in his 17th NBA year.
No doubt he was playing too many minutes in recent weeks, but this isn’t an overuse injury.
4. Is there some magical procedure or treatment that can speed his recovery?
Bryant caught lightning in a bottle when he went to Germany two years ago for that Regenokine procedure on an arthritic joint in his ailing right knee.
Can something out there help him again, regardless of international boundaries? Not really.
The Lakers obviously will provide the best care they can to the NBA’s highest-paid player, but there are no magic potions for a torn Achilles’ tendon … yet.
5. Who will step up and be the new leader for the Lakers?
I’d say Steve Nash, but, uh, is he out for the season too? His hip and hamstring injuries have cost him the last six games, not to mention parts of two others before that, and he’s a game-time decision Sunday against San Antonio.
So I’m going with Pau Gasol. He has been playing better lately, he’s known Bryant the longest of any current Laker and he was phenomenal as the centerpiece of Spain’s Olympic team last summer. He was probably the third-best player in that tournament behind LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Plus, Gasol has added incentive to show what he can do if he wants to avoid getting waived in July via the amnesty provision (to be discussed again … now).
6. Should the Lakers waive Bryant via the one-time amnesty provision?
It made financial sense if the timetable for his return was a less-optimistic 10 to 12 months. Why pay him $30.5 million next season to bring him back in mid-February next season (at best)?
But with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak saying an October return was a “realistic goal” for Bryant, it makes no sense to jettison him in July. Plus, it’s a bad PR move. Lakers fans would not be happy. And neither would, ahem, the injured patient.
7. Will Bryant be as good as he was when he comes back?
I don’t see how that’s possible. He was playing at an extremely high level — with 47 points in 48 minutes the other night against Portland. Ridiculous.
Most players struggle for a long, long time after coming back from a torn Achilles’ (ask Chauncey Billups). Bryant has an extremely high tolerance for pain, as we all know, but this is not a broken finger. Or a concussion. Or even torn plantar fascia.
8. Who will replace Bryant on the court?
It’s a Jodie Meeks world and we’re all living in it.
The first-year Lakers reserve is about as hot and cold as it gets.
He averaged 11.1 points a game in December and fell to 6.1 in January. He averaged 8.8 last month and 5.2 so far in April, including a mere three points in 22 minutes of the Lakers’ 118-116 shootout Friday against Golden State.
Decent shooter (at times), decent defender (for the most part), but certainly not Kobe Bryant.
9. Does this time off make it more likely Bryant will go beyond the end of his contract after next season?
An excellent question. There’s no excellent answer. It really depends how he looks and feels when he returns.
He’s not the type of guy who will stay too long at the NBA circus and average 9.2 points in his final season (hello, Shaq).
More than anybody, Bryant wants to retire at a high level. If he’s not the same player post-Achilles’ trauma, next season could very well be his last.