The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of a six-game losing streak and recently learned that Kobe Bryant likely won’t return until March, at the earliest.
However, a return to the basketball court should be the furthest thing from Bryant’s mind. Given that the Lakers have descended to the bottom of the Western Conference, Bryant’s best course of action is to shut it down for the remainder of the season and use the summer to regain form.
As the leader of the team, the notion that Bryant would make the decision to standby and let his teammates go to battle without him goes against what he’s built his career on – competing at all costs.
What Bryant must realize is he has nothing to gain and everything to lose if he were to return. This isn’t the dysfunctional but talented team from last season that could perhaps be salvaged with one heroic performance after another from Bryant.
Throughout his career, Bryant often recovered from several injuries faster than any timetable could predict. With more miles now on his body, Bryant simply isn’t recovering at the rate he used to – which isn’t a knock on him. Father Time is undefeated for a reason.
With the Lakers’ constant struggles, the idea that Bryant should seriously consider sitting out what’s left of the season has gained traction.
However, prior to the Lakers’ game against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 17, Bryant stated he planned to make every effort to return this season. “The only thing I can afford to consider is getting better, getting stronger,” he said.
With the latest injury update, the best-case scenario appears to have Bryant cleared for practice around Feb. 18. He would then presumably need a minimum of two to three weeks before he’s ready for game action.
On the off chance Bryant won’t need much practice time before he can return from this latest injury, he could conceivably be back on the court by the first week of March. However, for that to be the case, Bryant would need a stroke luck that has neither been bestowed on him nor his teammates for much of the season.
That best case scenario would result in Bryant missing anywhere from 12 to 20 games for a team that has gone 3-17 in its last 20 games.
Yes, during that stretch the Lakers have not only been without Bryant but also Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry and Steve Nash. The status of the group of injured players varies, but even with their return, the Lakers will likely continue to struggle.
Potentially offsetting the return of any of the players mentioned above is Pau Gasol, who will miss at least the next week with a groin injury. If Gasol misses an extended period of time, the Lakers will likely fall into a much deeper hole — one that Bryant wouldn’t be able to pull them out of despite his history of defying logic.
Missing the rest of the season may make Bryant’s eventual return to the basketball court more difficult than desired, but facing a tougher challenge closer to 100% is preferred than the possibility of Bryant prematurely fighting his way back to a lost cause.
Barring another midseason heist a la the Gasol acquisition in 2008, the Lakers are not winning a championship this season with or without Bryant.
Though it may be difficult to watch, the Lakers’ best option at this point in the season is to continue piling up the losses. The team shouldn’t stop competing, but even on their best of days, they are overmatched more times than not.
The 2014 NBA Draft is expected to be littered with plenty of talent. Whether the Lakers opt to keep the player they draft or trade him, the future could be bright as the team capitalizes on the constant losing from this season.
With a recovered Bryant, perhaps a marquee free agent and a high draft pick, the 2014-2015 Lakers may resemble the competitive teams that the fans and franchise are accustomed to seeing.
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