Loss of Kobe Bryant for six weeks could lead to Lakers’ gain in 2014


At first glance, it was an announcement draped in sadness, the lateral tibial plateau that stole Christmas.

Six games into his comeback from a left torn Achilles’ tendon, Kobe Bryant’s left leg has buckled under the strain. After Bryant worked eight months to return to the court, a fractured knee will send him to the sidelines for six more weeks.

There is sadness felt by an aging superstar who could be losing a slow fight with his body. There is sadness felt by a Lakers organization whose recent, foolish $48.5-million investment in Bryant is looking worse by the ache. There is sadness from the fans who will have to endure at least another 21 games without the electric promise of Bryant’s presence.


But step back, look past the sight of Bryant crumpled on the floor in Memphis, breathe past the shock that he played an entire half on a broken knee, and understand that the big picture looks far different.

This awful occurrence is actually the best thing for everyone.

Now the Lakers can tank without tanking.

Now the Lakers can finally begin their inevitable rebuilding process and maintain their dignity while doing it.

Without Bryant, the makeshift remaining team can play hard enough to entertain while losing enough to drop into next summer’s rich draft lottery.

Without Bryant, the Lakers finally have the excuse they need to speed up this renovation by trading Pau Gasol.

This could not only be good for the organization, it could also be good for Bryant, who now has the time to slow his rehabilitation to normal human levels and further strengthen his leg before stepping back on the court. The Lakers are maintaining that the knee injury, suffered Tuesday night in Memphis when Bryant twisted it on a drive, was not related to his earlier injury.

But it’s hard not to believe that two such important parts of the same leg aren’t somehow connected, and that Bryant’s quick comeback from the Achilles’ tear didn’t place undue strain on the knee.

Whatever the reason, with the season probably lost, Bryant has a reason to chill on the comeback until he’s in the sort of shape in which he can lead the team into a 2014 season that just got more promising.

Remember, Bryant’s new contract won’t allow for the Lakers to make the sort of free-agent acquisitions to greatly change their fortunes. If they are going to become a championship team again, they will have to reshape themselves through the draft, and this year’s class appears to be one of the best ever.

“That’s too bad, you hate it for Kobe, he’s worked so hard to get back,” Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters Thursday upon learning of the injury. “But he’ll be back, and we’ll deal with it and weather the storm until he gets back.”

It will be interesting for Lakers fans to watch them fight through the downpour. But it will be downright exciting for Lakers fans to be there when the sun finally appears again next summer and the team finally has an opportunity for real improvement.

In fact, there seems to be only one long-term loser in this latest bit of drama. It is, as usual, the Lakers official who has consistently struggled with his long-range vision. His name is Jim Buss, and the question that haunted his recent huge expenditure of vital club funds must be raised again.

Did he really have to give that much money to Kobe Bryant without ever seeing him play a game on his rehabilitated leg? Did he really have to take up a large chunk of the team’s salary cap for the next two seasons on a guy whose effectiveness was just a guess? There is a growing chance that Jim Buss has once again guessed terribly wrong, and one wonders how many more guesses the Buss family will allow him to make.

But check back next summer. Everything could look different. Thursday’s news was initially about Kobe Bryant, but later it could be about the likes of Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart. Talk about happy endings.

Twitter: @billplaschke