SAN ANTONIO — Byron Scott sat on the scorer’s table here at AT&T Center wishing he could provide some answers. Instead, he was left wondering like everyone else the severity of Kobe Bryant’s torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
“We’re still waiting for our doctors to take a look at it,” Scott said following morning shootaround on Friday before the Lakers (12-31) visit the San Antonio Spurs (27-17) tonight. “We all in the organization are worried about it. We were hoping by this time that we would have this news. He just hasn’t had a chance yet to see our doctors. So I’m waiting just like you guys are.”
Bryant still plans to see team doctors for a reevaluation on Friday. But the Lakers should know before tipoff to what degree this injury will impact Bryant. Will he need season-ending surgery? Will this injury sideline Bryant for a few weeks. Will the Lakers just shut him down anyway?
Scott said he has not outlined any contingency plans. But after mentoring Bryant his rookie season 18 years ago, Scott sensed that Bryant will eventually return to the court after suffering his third major injury in the past three seasons.
“This is one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around as far as dealing with injuries and things like that and being able to come back,” said Scott, noting Bryant returning from a left Achilles tendon he tore in April, 2013 about eight months later. “Everybody said he was done after the Achilles and he came back pretty strong. Knowing him the way I know him, I know he doesn’t want to go out this way. I think he’ll rehab it if that’s the case and then we’ll have to wait and see.”
Scott already tried handling Bryant with care in recent weeks by sitting him out in eight of the past 15 games. He took this approach in hopes to preserve the Lakers’ 36-year-old star for the 2015-16 season in what will mark the final year of his contract that will pay him $25 million. But Bryant’s health still took a turn for the worse after he threw down a baseline dunk in Wednesday’s loss in New Orleans.
Bryant soon asked out of the game so he could ice his shoulder. He then informed both Scott and Lakers trainer Gary Vitti he felt strong enough to play. Bryant entered the game with five minutes remaining and mostly used his left hand to dribble, pass and shoot. He then left the game with just over a minute left and went straight to the locker room.
Afterwards, Bryant downplayed the injury and noted he had nursed a shoulder injury for a while. Scott recalled on Friday that Bryant told him about a month and a half ago that “his shoulder was bothering him a little bit.”
“I said, ‘You all right? He said, ‘Yeah, I’m good. It’s just bothering me a little bit. Once I get warmed up I’m fine,'” Bryant said. “So, after that point I never thought about it.”
Scott then looked back at that situation in retrospect.
“The first thing you think about is, ‘Man, I remember us talking about this a couple of months ago, so we both kind of went back to that,'” Scott said. “He asked me, ‘Did you remember? I said, ‘Yeah I remember when we talked about it. But you never really brought it back up and neither did I.’ I thought it was just a dead issue.”
But Scott does not believe how he played Bryant is a dead issue. Scott continued providing self-criticism on playing Bryant an average of 35.6 minutes in the first 27 games. So much that Scott said he apologized to Bryant via text message about giving him such a heavy workload.
“I don’t know if the wear and tear of playing so many minutes early is a result of what’s happening to him right now. To be honest with you, I thought about that, it made me almost sick,” Scott said. “Hopefully that wasn’t it, but as a coach you’re going to second-guess yourself at time.”
“His response was like, ‘No that ain’t it,”” Scott said. “He tried to make me feel better, and he tried to add some more humor to it.”
Bryant provided more humor when he tweeted, “This is what happens when I pass too much!” Scott let out a hearty laugh when he was relayed about Bryant’s joke.
“Well, good,” Scott said, laughing. “He didn’t blame it on Coach playing him too much.”
Scott reported that Bryant “sounded great” when they talked Thursday both before his MRI exam and when he drove to the airport later that day to fly back to Los Angeles for Friday’s reexamination. Yet, Scott and Bryant did not talk about the next step ahead. But with Scott anxiously awaiting on the final verdict, he saw the landscape ahead on the significance Bryant’s recovery will have both in writing his last chapter and recruiting free agents this summer.
“He has a lot of respect around this league, so I think him talking to players about coming here and what we’re trying to rebuild is very important,” Scott said. “Hopefully he’ll be a healthy Kobe and be ready to play again next year if that’s the case.”
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