The Lakers have officially ruled Kobe Bryant out for the remainder of the 2013-14 season after an examination with team physician Dr. Steve Lombardo determined Bryant’s fractured left knee still has not healed.
“Obviously this has been a frustrating and disappointing season, but I appreciate all the support I’ve received from the Lakers and the fans, and look forward to being back and ready for the start of training camp,” Bryant said in a statement released by the Lakers.
“With Kobe’s injury still not healed, the amount of time he’d need to rehab and be ready to play, and the amount of time remaining in the season, we’ve simply run out of time for him to return,” Lakers trainer Gary Vitti added in a statement. “However, Kobe will have the entire offseason to heal, rehab and prepare, and we look forward to him being 100% for the start of next season.”
The Lakers initially declined to provide an update on Bryant’s recovery on Tuesday evening and Wednesday mnorning, citing his planned reevaluation on Friday will provide more clarity on where his recovery stands. But Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni expressed skepticism last week that Bryant would play this season for a number of reasons.
Bryant hadn’t advanced his rehab beyond stationary bike exercises. Even if Bryant receives clearance on Friday to advance his rehab, the Lakers have expected it would take a couple of weeks before he fully progresses toward full-court practices even if he doesn’t experience any setbacks. Considering the Lakers (22-42) enter Thursday’s game against Oklahoma City with only 18 games remaining, that appears to be a tight window for Bryant to return. Even though Bryant had hoped to play this season both to build his rhythm and see what adjustments he might have to make this offseason, D’Antoni has downplayed those variables.
The Lakers are destined to miss the playoffs for only the fifth time in franchise history. They have a slew of young players on one-year deals they want to evaluate under the benefit of significant minutes. There’s, of course, risk Bryant could experience additional injuries to derail his potential offseason progress.
Bryant missed the first 19 games of the season while rehabbing his left Achilles tendon. He appeared in six games, averaging 13.8 points on 42.5 percent shooting, 5.7 turnovers and 6.3 assists, a far drop from his career 25.5 points on 45.4 percent shooting, three turnovers and 4.8 assists. Bryant then injured his left knee after colliding with Memphis forward Tony Allen on Dec. 17.
“It’s progressing slowly. It really tests my patience,” Bryant said in a recent interview with Jacques Slade from Kustoo.com that mostly centered on his work with Nike. ”There’s only so much I can do. I find myself relegated to a bike. The first few weeks, it’s cool. I’m getting a good workout in. Third or fourth, I’m thinking I need to do something else. I want to play. I want to run.”
Bryant has cemented his legacy partly through playing through numerous injuries. But until now, Bryant had never played fewer than 50 games in a season beyond the lockout-shortened year in the 1998-99 campaign.
Despite Bryant’s health issues, the Lakers secured him to a two-year, $48.5 million extension last November before even seeing him return to the court. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has since said he still doesn’t regret the decision, both mindful of how Bryant has elevated the Lakers brand through five NBA championships and optimistic Bryant will recover from his latest ailments.
“We’re not going to push him to get back,” Kupchak said this month. “I don’t see why you would. We’ve made a commitment to him for two more years, and I just don’t know why we’d do that [push him to come back]. But if he feels he’s ready and he’s in shape and he gets the doctor’s approval, then there’s no reason why he couldn’t do that.”