EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Kobe Bryant won’t be back on the court for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
Bryant expressed only mild frustration Wednesday after the official announcement of the long-expected decision to shut him down for the year. Bryant’s broken bone in his left knee still hasn’t healed enough for weight-bearing exercise.
With just five weeks left in their miserable season, the Lakers elected to preserve their superstar guard for next year, when he’ll be 36.
“It’s disappointing,” Bryant said at the Lakers’ training complex. “You want to get out there and play and perform, but at the same time, you’ve just got to be realistic and go from there.”
Bryant has played in just six games this season, the shortest in the remarkable career of the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history. He missed the first 19 games after tearing his left Achilles tendon last April, and the five-time NBA champion was back in uniform for just 10 days before fracturing the top of his shinbone in Memphis on Dec. 17.
The Lakers initially thought Bryant could return shortly after six weeks of recovery, but the bone has been slow to heal.
“With Kobe’s injury still not healed, the amount of time he’d need to rehab and be ready to play, and the amount of time remaining in the season, we’ve simply run out of time for him to return,” Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni hasn’t been expecting Bryant’s imminent return, and he knew Kobe couldn’t save the injury-ravaged team’s lousy campaign. At 22-42, Los Angeles began the day in a three-way tie for last place in the Western Conference with 29 losses in its last 38 games heading into Thursday’s trip to Oklahoma City.
“Seems like this is what’s best for his health,” D’Antoni said. “Just make sure he’s well, and get ready for next year, that’s the No. 1 thing.”
And though Bryant has barely played this season, the famed competitor hasn’t enjoyed his perspective on the Lakers’ failures.
“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 discussed more than his injury in what’s likely to be his final public comments for a while. He also used the occasion to ask for “a clear direction” of the Lakers’ path through what’s certain to be a rocky offseason, mentioning owners Jim and Jeanie Buss by name.
Bryant said he won’t be satisfied with another rebuilding year for the Lakers, who are virtually certain to miss the playoffs next month for just the second time in his 18-season career in Los Angeles. Bryant signed a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension earlier this season with the Lakers, absorbing a large chunk of the team’s upcoming salary-cap space.
“How can I be satisfied with it?” Bryant asked. “We’re like 100 games under .500. I can’t be satisfied with that at all. This is not what we stand for. This is not what we play for. A lot of times, it’s hard to understand that message if you’re not a die-hard Laker fan. It’s hard to really understand where we’re coming from, what we’re used to, what we’re accustomed to, which is playing for championships. Everything else is a complete failure. That’s just how it is.”
Bryant also threw indirect criticism at the Lakers’ front office when asked about Phil Jackson’s apparent decision to take a front-office job with the New York Knicks. The Lakers flirted with re-hiring the 11-time NBA champion coach early last season before unexpectedly choosing D’Antoni.
“You know how I feel about Phil,” Bryant said. “I have so much admiration for him, and respect, and have a great relationship with him. Personally, it would be hard for me to understand that happening twice. It would be tough. I don’t really get it.”