Fresh off his return from an Achilles injury, Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant is on the mend again, this time with a fractured bone in his left knee. At age 35, Bryant was averaging just less than 14 points per game to go along with 6.3 assists as the Lakers had inserted him in their point guard role with several other guards dinged up. With now another major injury to deal with as he enters the twilight of his career, where does Bryant go from here? The longtime Laker recently signed a $48.5 million-dollar deal for two additional seasons but how will his latest setback impact him as well as the Lakers? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: Bryant’s recent injury doesn’t really change the landscape in Laker Land. With a roster short on talent and tall on salary, Los Angeles is still positioned where they want to be and that’s with tons of cap room as we head into what should be another blockbuster summer. The Lakers weren’t going to compete this season anyway. So the best Bryant can do is take his time rehabbing, come back before the season’s off and work off the rust as he and the Lakers prepare for what should be a pivotal 2014-2015 season.
Green: But at 35-years-old and off two major injuries to his legs, how much will Bryant be able to give the Lakers going forward and will that notion greatly impact a free agent’s decision to join L.A.? It probably will. This was another worse case scenario and the Lakers got it with this latest injury. The plan obviously was to bring Kobe back, show that he’s good and head into the summer with cap space and retool for a major run next season featuring Bryant as the star attraction. Well, I hate to break it to Lakers fans, but the Kobe Bryant that we’ve all come to love is done. Finito. Black Mamba down. And I don’t think he will ever be as athletic as he was pre-injury. Bryant will still be a very skilled player. But his super star abilities may be gone forever, healthy or not.
Riley: Obviously Bryant’s health will be a key thing to whatever the Lakers decide to do next season but you simply can’t count him out. The prolonged period will not only give that broken bone a chance to heal but his Achilles as well. I wouldn’t put it past Bryant to return to the 20-plus point scorer next season that he’s always been. Acquiring Carmelo Anthony is even more of a possibility now than it was prior to the season starting, all L.A. has to do is sit back, rest and rehab Bryant, sign a few key pieces for next year and make a run at Anthony. This injury shouldn’t deter Bryant from coming back strong and it shouldn’t deter players from keeping the Lakers in their free agent plans.
Green: The pressure to win rings is becoming even more prevalent after LeBron James ran off back-to-back titles. So the sense of the ideal setting is going to weigh heavy in the back of any free agent’s mind. The Lakers have a lot going against them right now and they’ll face another uphill battle with a rapidly aging Bryant trying to return from another knee surgery. I have no doubt that Bryant will return to some kind of acceptable form but will the Lakers? The odds don’t look good.