Until Kobe Bryant says it’s over we should expect him to return, but with his shoulder injury keeping him for presumably the next nine months, it won’t be too much of a stretch to suggest he has played his final game for the Los Angeles Lakers and in the NBA.
It seems that the wear and tear of playing in the NBA since 1996 has caught up with Bryant over the last two years. He tore his Achilles tendon at the end of the 2012-2013 season which caused him to miss the playoffs. Last season he played a total of six games – returning later than expected and going down earlier than anyone thought before being shut down by the team. This season he started as if he’s a young bull that can take on anything, but pretty soon reality hit him and those hypnotized by his past straight in the face.
Byron Scott put the blame on him, suggesting that before the resting and limited minutes policy was put in place, it was his insistence that Bryant could play like he doesn’t have so many seasons, games and minutes logging up on his body, pulling him down. Whether or not that’s true is besides the point. Bryant played too much. It hurt the team as much as it harmed his own, more fragile than ever body, and led to the season ending too soon for him.
This all happens despite getting to sit out eight games in this month alone and seeing his minutes restricted. At 36, playing like you’re 10 years young doesn’t just lead to embarrassing performances and numbers (37.3% from the field) on half the nights he’s on the court, but simply tears you up a lot quicker than you’re used to. Even with limited minutes and a pseudo-unselfish playing style in January, he still managed to shoot 35.6% from the field on 14.5 shots per game.
And if this is it for Bryant? We’ll only know in the summer, when his rehab his further along. Bryant hasn’t played a playoff game since 2012 (conference semifinals against the Thunder), and one might think that it’s not going to happen any time soon for him. He missed it in 2013, the Lakers didn’t make it last year and won’t make it this season. Next year? As long as his contract is under this salary cap, it’s hard to believe the Lakers can build a good enough team to succeed despite of him.
Regardless of the opinion on Bryant’s importance to the Lakers, it’s incredible to see the long list of players that they had planned on when this season began but are out until the end of it: Steve Nash who didn’t get to play a single game, rookie Julius Randle going down on his NBA debut, Xavier Henry with his total of 86 minutes this season and now Bryant, the team’s leading scorer and still undisputed face of the franchise.
Maybe it’s too soon to write an epilogue on Bryant’s career, that includes seven NBA finals, five NBA championships, one regular season MVP and two in the finals, 17 All-Star games and 11 All-NBA first team selections. But the great and even good part of his career is over. Whatever he comes back as, whenever he does comeback, the expectations from him shouldn’t be anywhere near what a delusional fan base thinks of him. It might be better for Bryant himself to start taking it down a notch or two, for his sake and the team’s.