Kobe Bryant, perennial National Basketball Association (NBA) All Star and all-everything for the Los Angeles Lakers, was lost for the season on April 12 with a torn Achilles tendon. With the Lakers still hanging on to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, as of press time, Los Angeles is prepared to head into the postseason with Dwight Howard substituting as a crutch. Doctors are calling for a six to nine-month recovery for Bryant. The questions that have swirled around the Lakers all season about whether or not Howard would re-sign with the team this summer have been overtaken by one big question: What's next for Kobe Bryant? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: If there’s one player in all of sports who I'm sure would come back from an injury like this at age 34, it is Kobe Bryant. Given the way Bryant played this year (27 points per game, six assists and six rebounds per game) it's clear he has way more left in the tank. He's still the top shooting guard in the game and could probably continue to have a significant impact on the game for easily three to four more years. Should Howard re-sign with the club this summer then the Lakers have a chance to be light-years better than what they showed for most of the early part of this season. Not saying they'll win a championship next year but contention would definitely be on the horizon.
Green: I respect Bryant's toughness and career but I think he should consider hanging them up. What if Howard doesn't re-sign? Who could blame him considering his elder teammate and co-All Star just suffered a pretty significant injury. If Howard says goodbye then what would motivate Kobe to return? He's a prize fighter sort-to-speak. He plays for championships so what would he be returning to exactly? The only team to be part of, if he truly wants a ring, doesn't have "Lakers" written across the front of the jersey. I just can't see Kobe doing that. Now is the perfect time to hang them up.
Riley: We both know Kobe isn't going to let this be the last image of him that people see. I don't care if the Lakers have a bunch of D Leaguers on the team next season, there's too much pride in Bryant to let the image of him limping off the court be the last we see of him.
Green: Why can't he? Why risk life-lasting injury just so the public can watch him hobble through another season or two. An Achilles injury is a pretty devastating ordeal. Current diagnosis puts him on pace to return around December or early next season. Asking the Lakers to go the first few months of the season without Bryant is a pretty tough request. Asking Bryant to come back and salvage the team at this point is even tougher.
Riley: We also both know that Kobe is going to beat that timetable. Would it really surprise anyone if Bryant is back by opening night next fall? It wouldn't surprise me at all. The Lakers haven't been title-worthy in years and Bryant's still gone out and performed. The Lakers won't be title-worthy anytime soon either but you can still count on the Mamba to still be productive.
Green: Sorry, Riley. But I just can't see Bryant going through some grueling rehab to come back for mediocrity. If he retired this summer my lasting memory of him wouldn't be him being helped off the court. It would be him pumping in an MVP season and holding a defunct Lakers team together all season through the mist of coaching changes, injuries and the Dwight Howard debate. This might have been Bryant's finest season in years and it might become even more significant if it turns out to be his last one.
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