Any possibility of Kobe Bryant returning soon has been completely tossed out the window. On Tuesday the Lakers announced that their star guard will be out at least another month, as he continues to recover from a knee injury.
Bryant was examined on Tuesday and still has pain and swelling in his left knee, in which he suffered a fracture of the tibial plateau on December 17. Previously, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni claimed Bryant would be back before the All-Star Game, but that has been completely dismissed now. The 35-year-old guard will be re-examined in approximately three weeks.
Since Bryant almost certainly won’t be doing much over the next three weeks, it’s safe to assume the Lakers will begin planning to be without Bryant for the rest of the season. At some point, if Los Angeles is completely out of playoff contention (and the Lakers are rapidly approaching that point) there would be no reason to allow Bryant to come back this year.
After losing to the Indiana Pacers Tuesday night, the Lakers are now 16-30 on the season, which puts them in a virtual tie with the Sacramento Kings (15-29) for the worst record in the Western Conference. With what is likely to be a historically loaded draft this year, Los Angeles may be fine with continuing to lose.
If the season ended today the Lakers would own the sixth pick in the draft, but if their losing trend continues they could fall even further.
Bryant is a smart guy. He knows the Lakers need to get a young, franchise-defining talent in this year’s draft. Heck, Bryant probably wants to play next to a young, franchise-defining talent. If Los Angeles can get that level of a player (think Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart, Dante Exum, etc.) and eventually land Kevin Love (who badly wants to be a Laker), then this season will have been worth the pain.