It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Kobe Bryant drove left and suddenly stumbled to the ground. To the average fan, it didn’t look serious. Bryant, grimacing in pain, walked to the bench, returned to sink two free-throws then headed to the locker room. After the team pulled out a stirring victory over the Golden State Warriors without him, the Lakers announced that Bryant had suffered a probable torn Achilles. In the blink of an eye, everything changed for the NBA’s most coveted franchise.
The next day Bryant went into surgery and the organization announced a six- to nine-month recovery time for their star player. Bryant’s injury is the final note in a long list of things to go wrong for the Lakers this season. It all started in the second game of the season with Steve Nash bowing out for months with a broken leg. It will now symbolically end with the ultimate competitor exiting with two games left before the playoffs. So what does this mean for Bryant and the Lakers organization?
In the short term, the Lakers are no longer a serious threat to upset the top tier teams in the playoffs. The Black Mamba has been the team’s most consistent and durable player. This season Bryant has averaged a team-high 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6 assists, 1.36 steals, and 38.6 minutes in 78 games. The next highest scoring player is Dwight Howard, who averages 16.9 points per game.
Outside of statistics, Bryant has single handedly carried an injury-plagued team to the cusp of the playoffs. With Nash, Howard and Pau Gasol all missing an ample amount of time due to injury, Bryant defied his age and put together one of the best shooting seasons of his illustrious career. Gasol and Howard will undoubtedly step up their production in his absence, but without Kobe’s killer instinct and ability to close games, the Lakers have no chance to beat the top seeds in the Western conference.
In the long term, Bryant will be back and I believe better than most expect. When it comes to Bryant, you can count him out at your own peril. While it’s true that many players struggle to come back from an Achilles tear, Bryant is not many players. In his mind, he can conquer anything and judging by his career, it seems to be true. While many people wonder whether at age 34 Bryant will be back, I say remember the old adage: age ain’t nothing but a number.