It’s safe to say that this year hasn’t been the best for Kobe Bryant. In case you missed it, Kobe Bryant has been sidelined for at least 6 weeks after fracturing the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee. The injury happened Tuesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after a non-contact play in which Bryant fell to the floor after attempting a post-up move on Tony Allen. At the time, everyone, including Kobe himself, simply believed that his knee was hyper-extended, and the early signs looked good as Kobe played out the rest of the game. He even managed to help the Lakers to the win with some big plays down the stretch.
However, a recent MRI scan on the knee delivered a blow to Kobe and his return from his Achilles injury, one lasting just 6 games. Missing 6 weeks means that Kobe will miss at least 21 games, and he will be returning around very late-January/early-February. Bryant had already missed the Lakers’ first 19 games of the season, so in the best case scenario, Kobe will only be available for about half the games during the regular season for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Where Kobe goes next from here is going to be crucial for him. Everyone knows that Kobe is a warrior, so it may not be a surprise you to see him try to come back as soon as possible from this new obstacle. However, such a choice would not only be difficult, but it may not be wise either. We’ve already seen Kobe rush back from his achilles injury, and it’s safe to say that the results weren’t exactly the best. During the tenure of his 6-game comeback, Kobe led the league in turnovers with 34 – at a rate of nearly 6 turnovers a game. Kobe also scored under double digits three times, and he shot 18.8% from three-point range. While some rustiness could naturally be expected and blamed for some poor stats in his short return, it was very clear that Kobe wasn’t 100% healthy too and had rushed back too early. He struggled to plant and explode off of his left foot like he used to, and the fact that he recovered fully not only hindered himself, but the Lakers generally while he was on the floor.
Another direction Kobe may choose to go is to take extended time off in the aftermath of this injury. With extended time, Kobe could fully address both injuries he has battled. He can take more time to wait for total explosiveness to come back in his achilles like it was before he injured it, while similarly ensuring all knee issues he may have dealt with are resolved before he attempts a return. Above physical issues, Bryant could also take time to mentally deal with his injuries. Having a fully-healed achilles/knee is one thing, but fully trusting the achilles/knee is another. Taking extended time out is something former MVP Derrick Rose did after tearing his ACL, and while his return showed typical signs of rust, he claimed to be even stronger and more explosive than before. He looked like his former self physically before tragically tearing the meniscus in his other knee. At this stage in his career, it may be best for Bryant to choose this path. He’s 35 years-old in the 18th season of his career with his athleticism declining. Rushing back from his latest injury wouldn’t be of much benefit to anyone, and it could even leave him prone to another injury. The obvious disadvantage of this strategy is that Bryant would miss more games, but this could arguably be better for the Lakers compared to having Kobe Bryant not at his best.
No matter which direction Kobe Bryant takes, one direction he’s clearly not taking is retirement. If you thought he would retire, you simply do not know Kobe Bryant. He has always been a warrior, and in response to the knee fracture, he tweeted,
He was also quoted as saying that “only an idiot would doubt [his] return.” Injuries will always be an unlikely way for Kobe to go out, and his response was nothing short of typical. Also, he recently signed a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension prior to the injury, meaning he has a secure future with the Lakers while still being paid max dollars. Also, Bryant is really close to breaking many milestones: Kobe is 593 points away from passing Michael Jordan for 3rd on the NBA All-Time Scoring list, and he is also just 75 assists away from becoming the first player in NBA history to have 30,000 points, 6,000 rebounds and 6,000 assists in a career. While Kobe may also be 99 missed shots away from becoming the all-time leader in missed shots (John Havlicek is the current all-time leader), but generally what Kobe has achieved in his career is legendary. He is on the brink of further enhancing his legacy. All this will be in Kobe’s mind right now, serving as motivation for him to return better than ever. While Kobe’s time will be up soon, it will not be now.
No matter how long it takes for Kobe to return, hopefully, it will mark the end of a bad period of injuries not just for him, but for the whole league. The NBA is never the same when players have to miss time due to injuries, and hopefully the many injuries that have plagued this season will stop, allowing us to all be able to enjoy another basketball season which isn’t masked with noticeable absentees.