Lakers guard Kobe Bryant injured his foot during Friday's win vs. the Warriors./Richard Mackson, USA TODAY Sports
Kobe Bryant was in no mood to answer the only
question that mattered, and no one - not even a Boston Celtics fan -
could blame him.
Yet as the Los Angeles Lakers star stood there in
the Staples Center locker room with teary eyes discussing his night of
ill fortune, how he heard his Achilles tendon pop late in the fourth quarter and how this was the toughest moment of his transcendent career, the question eventually came.
this isn't the last game that we'll see you play?" a reporter asked
after the Lakers downed Golden State to keep their playoff hopes alive.
"Really? Really?" he shot back before making light of the moment.
Yes, Kobe, this is really happening.
will have an MRI on Saturday to, as the Lakers put it in the news
release, "confirm the diagnosis" before later having surgery. The
timing, make no mistake, couldn't be more torturous for the 34-year-old
who had hinted so many times next season would likely be his last. As
one could predict when it comes to Bryant, he hardly sounded like
someone who was entertaining the notion that this could be the end.
was) upset and dejected and thinking about this mountain, man, to
overcome," he told reporters. "I mean this is a long process. I wasn't
sure I could do it. Then your kids walk in, and you're like, 'You know,
I've got to set an example. Daddy's going to be fine. I'm going to do
"I can hear (the doubters) already, and it's pissing me off right now thinking about it."
the fact that the Lakers will now attempt to sneak into the playoffs
without him, there's the reality that - based on a brutal body of
evidence from NBA players in the past - he may not return until midway
through the season that was his supposed swan song. As the Miami Heat's LeBron James tweeted late Friday night, Bryant has played through so much pain that a comeback wouldn't surprise.
given that Bryant is as diligent a worker and quick a healer as there
is in the professional sports world, it's not a matter of whether he can
come back as much as it is whether there will be any ripple effect of
the injury on his retirement plans. Or, for that matter, the Lakers
plans as they pertain to him.
Bryant has one season left on his
contract (worth $30.4 million), and would likely return just as the
Lakers are facing a free agency period in the summer of 2014 that could
have the likes of King James himself on the market. What's more, one has
to wonder how center and free-agent-to-be Dwight Howard will assess his
situation with this drastically-changed Lakers landscape. Before
Bryant's injury, all signs had been pointing to Howard wanting to
re-sign with the Lakers.
According to Dr. Asheesh Bedi on the website, SportsMD.com, the typical return from an Achilles tear and surgery is between six and nine months.
Bryant mentioned during his postgame discussion with reporters that
he'll be doing homework on athletes who have suffered an Achilles tear
and, one can assume, proceed to push his way back faster than every man
and woman on that list. His goal going forward should be to channel his
inner Dominique Wilkins.
As documented in a comprehensive study of
Achilles injuries in the NBA by analyst Kevin Pelton (who's now with
ESPN), the Atlanta Hawks star tore his Achilles at the age of 32, then
returned to play his way onto two more All-Star teams before retiring at
the age of 39. The what-not-to-do blueprint comes courtesy of Detroit
Pistons great Isiah Thomas, who was forced into early retirement at the
age of 32 after tearing his Achilles. More recently, Los Angeles
Clippers guard Chauncey Billups, who was 35 at the time, returned 10
months after tearing his Achilles on Feb. 8, 2012.
Mike D'Antoni will inevitably draw criticism for the way he had used
Bryant down the stretch of this playoff push, as he averaged 45.6
minutes in the last seven games while they went 6-1 with Bryant also
averaging 28.9 points (42.4% shooting), 8.4 assists, 7.3 rebounds and
3.4 turnovers. But the simplistic connecting of those dots simply isn't
fair, mostly because Bryant wields the sort of influence in Laker Land
that he's practically a player/coach. D'Antoni was following Bryant's
lead in this 11th hour just as he had for most of the season,
recognizing that the title count between them - five championships for
Bryant and none for his coach - would almost always give his star the
Even with their win against the Golden State Warriors
on Friday night, the Lakers are just one game up on ninth-place Utah.
The margin for error is nonexistent because the Jazz - who downed the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday,
play at Minnesota on Monday and at Memphis in their regular season
finale on Wednesday - hold the tiebreaker because they beat the Lakers
in two of three meetings. The Lakers will try to finish this postseason
push without Bryant, with a home game against San Antonio next up on the
must-win docket and the regular season finale against Houston on
He will be there as an unofficial coach, directing
traffic from the bench while All-Stars still abound on this team that
has underachieved like no other. Pau Gasol will need to continue his revival act, while Howard should seize this opportunity to play a more prominent role that he had asked for.
Point guard Steve Nash missed his sixth consecutive game with hamstring
and hip trouble on Friday, but the Lakers are surely hoping he returns
But Bryant won't be there. Yes, this is really happening.