NEW YORK — The pain both Carmelo Anthony and Derek Fisher felt could hardly match the physical strain Kobe Bryant faced when he tore a right rotator cuff in his right shoulder nearly two weeks ago.
But the Knicks’ head coach (Fisher) and Knicks’ star player (Anthony) both conveyed how an injury to their longtime friend struck them. Fisher revealed he took Bryant’s injury “personal” considering they won all of their five NBA championships together with the Lakers. Anthony conceded Bryant’s injury “was tough on me” as the Knicks’ star is already dealing with a sore left knee that leaves him hopeful to play when the Lakers (13-34) play the New York Knicks (9-38) on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
“I know how hard he works and he did work to get back from the Achilles,” Anthony said. “He worked even harder to get back from the knee. And now the shoulder surgery…”
Anthony trailed off as he said those words. But he hit on a major theme that has defined Bryant’s tail end of his career. He has experienced three season-ending surgeries in the past three seasons. After tearing his Achilles tendon on April 2013, Bryant stayed sidelined for eight months. He then played six games of the 2013-14 season before fracturing his left knee and sitting out the rest of the season. In his 19th NBA season, Bryant averaged 22.3 points albeit on a career-low 22.3 minutes before suffering a right shoulder injury that required surgery and will sideline him for nine months.
Devastating news, for sure. But you wouldn’t know it, according to Anthony and Fisher, when you talk to Bryant.
“He’s good. Kobe will never show you any signs of weakness or anything like that,” said Anthony regarding a conversation with Bryant he described as ‘brother to brother.'”He’ll be back. He’ll prove everybody wrong. He’ll be back for sure.”
Fisher reached similar conclusions, noting that Bryant is “just as determined to come back from this one. His mind doesn’t see it any other way. That’s the way he has to be.”
And yet, history has shown that might not be enough.
After all, Bryant has already proven he can come back from a major injury. He even has shown he can still play at an elite level. He hasn’t proven, however, that he can survive the course of an 82-game schedule without experiencing another major injury. Bryant opened the 2014-15 campaign averaging 24.6 points on a career-low 37.2 percent clip in 35.4 minutes through the first 27 games. Scott then rested Bryant for all practices and shootarounds and sat him in eight of the next 16 games before his injury to rest him. Bryant also played as a facilitator between 32 to 34 minutes per game on nights he played. Scott’s preservation strategy proved not enough.
“What he’s learning through this adversity is learning what he can and can’t do at this point in his career,” Fisher said. “He’s accepting that. You saw him this year starting to accept that maybe I can’t play every night and I will take some nights off and take some rest here or there. He thinks it’s all information and feedback for him so that when he comes back next year, it’ll be part of the plan from the beginning. Maybe he won’t push himself as hard in training camp and take some rest earlier in the season and really use that as a way to get through a whole season without a major injury.”
Scott has already suggested as much. Although Bryant’s role hinges on how well the Lakers upgrade their roster this season, Scott said he would like to play him in the 2015-16 season playing in the low-to-mid 20-minute range. Scott has also said he should opened the season sitting Bryant on back-to-backs and keeping him to a 30-to-32 minute restriction limit.
As much as Bryant understands his 36-year-old body, how challenging has it become for the Lakers’ star both to handle it with care and maximize what he has left.
“I would assume it has been,” Fisher said. “He’ll continue to learn from each of these setbacks. He’ll learn from this one again. He’ll come back still determined because that’s the way he is. He’ll continue to be smarter and smarter on how far the limits are that he can push so he can stay healthy throughout the season.”