Kobe Bryant will not be back on the court for the Lakers this season.
Bryant expressed only mild frustration on Wednesday after the long-expected decision to end his 18th NBA season after just six games. The superstar guard’s broken bone in his left knee has kept him out since shortly before Christmas, and it still has not healed enough for weight-bearing exercise.
With just five weeks left in their injury-ravaged season, the Lakers (22-42) elected to preserve Bryant for next year, when he will be 36. And though Bryant has barely played, he is determined to make sure the Lakers’ failures of this season are not repeated in 2014-2015.
The Lakers’ ruthlessly competitive scorer cannot take much more incompetence from his 16-time NBA champion franchise.
“I feel like killing everybody every time I go to the arena,” Bryant said. “I’m just on edge all the time. Yeah, I still feel it, probably more than anybody in the organization does. I probably feel it more, and it drives me absolutely crazy.”
Bryant clearly identified the Lakers’ top off-season priorities in his mind, and they did not include specific free-agent additions.
The fourth-leading scorer in NBA history called on the Lakers’ front office — and owner Jim Buss in particular — to set “a clear direction” for the franchise’s return to the top after they miss the playoffs this spring for just the second time in his career.
“You’ve got to start with Jim,” Bryant said. “You’ve got to start with Jim and Jeanie [Buss], and how that relationship plays out. It starts there, and having clear direction and clear authority. And then it goes down to the coaching staff, and what’s Mike [D’Antoni] going to do, what they want to do with Mike, and then it goes from there. It’s got to start at the top.”
Exactly 11 months after tearing his Achilles, Bryant remained confident he can return in something close to top form.
He plans to approach his remaining rehabilitation as “a seven-month training program,” giving him ample time to rebuild strength in his left leg.
“I don’t want to say I’ll be back at the top of my game,” Bryant said. “Because everybody is going to think I’m crazy, and it’s the old-player-not-letting-go sort of thing. But that’s what it’s going to be.” Bryant missed the first 19 games of this season after tearing his left Achilles tendon in April last year, returning on Dec. 8 last year. The five-time NBA champion was back in uniform for just 10 days before fracturing the top of his shinbone in Memphis.
The Lakers initially thought Bryant could return shortly after six weeks of recovery, but the bone has been slow to heal.