Bryant has single handedly led the Lakers on some improbable comebacks this season, but returning to an NBA floor after tearing his left Achilles tendon on Friday night against Golden State, may be his most challenging act yet.
Kobe Bryant can do a lot of things, but playing on torn Achilles ain't one of 'em. If that's the diagnosis, industry standard is a year out— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 13, 2013
From the moment Steve Nash bruised his knee in the Lakers second game of the season, and his head coach Mike D’Antoni limped in on crutches, the tone of this season was set.
D’Antoni subsequently sped up the Lakers sluggish pace like a David Guetta remix. The 116 points surrendered by the Lakers was just a microcosm of what D’Antoni has done wrong this season.
Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Dwight Howard, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill and Nash’s nicks were not preventable, but D’Antoni feigned ignorance towards Bryant’s overexertion. He also failed to understand what Phil Jackson did--you’ve got to rest your superstars.
In his final two months as Lakers head coach, Jackson had Bryant playing under 34 minutes a night. This month Bryant is averaging 45.2 minutes per game. That’s the highest average of his career. In December of 2004, 26-year-old Bryant played 45.1 minutes per game and in March 2007, he averaged 44.8 minutes.
D’Antoni got handed a vintage muscle car and he treated it like a Saturn.
"Kobe's our best bet going forward to win games, and he says he's going to retire after a year, so we'll get our money's worth for two years." D’Antoni told the Los Angeles Times this week.
It appears he tried to get all two years' worth over the final few weeks of the regular season. Coach Pringles stayed true to his nature and once he saw Kobe popping buckets like microwaved popcorn kernels, he just couldn’t stop. He sped up the beat and had the Lakers playing the sixth fastest pace in the league (behind the much younger Rockets, Nuggets, Warriors and Bucks. The Mavs are an outlier).
Mike D'Antoni said "it was my call" to keep Kobe in the game. Understood both sides, but knows how well Kobe has played— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) April 13, 2013
If D'Antoni coached the Vikings Adrian Peterson would get 50 carries a game— Lee Jenkins (@SI_LeeJenkins) April 13, 2013
Kobe Bryant is such a driven competitor, that he requires a bench bartender (like Eric Spoelstra or Gregg Popovich) to tell him no and close the tab when he starts slurring words. Instead, D’Antoni enabled him, and turned a blind eye to Bryant fishtailing it out of the parking lot. D’Antoni raced to catch a red-eye flight and sat in first class, while Captain Bryant stumbled into the cockpit. As a result, the Lakers turbulent season nosedived.
If the Lakers don’t make the playoffs, D’Antoni should hop a one-way flight back to West Virginia.
Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III was among many athletes who poured in the sympathies. After suffering a hyperextended knee injury that looked much worse, Griffin III returned to the lineup after a one-week absence and led Washington to the postseason.
Never want to see anyone get injured. So it's a night of prayer for @kobebryant & his family & team— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) April 13, 2013
Just watched @kobebryant press conference & I could feel the pain in his voice & know the feeling of pain in his heart— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) April 13, 2013
However, Mike and Kyle Shanahan continued calling zone-option reads even after he re-injured his knee in the Wild Card round. Ultimately, their misuse led to RG3 tearing his ACL and MCL late in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks. We later learned that the Redskins completely botched the protection of their franchise quarterback and worsened his situation. D'Antoni was warned about overplaying Bryant all season, and before his Achilles tendon tore, he suffered injuries to both of his knees as well.
Bryant got Shanahan'd.
Unlike RG3, if Bryant ever returns from this injury, he probably won’t be the same. He may not play again until the 2014 postseason and he’s already played the equivalent of 20 NBA seasons, when you include his playoff and Olympic minutes. Yet, D’Antoni had Bryant going a full 48 without rest.
It was a less extreme version of Derrick Rose's growing list of leg injuries during the 2012 season that led up to his torn ACL.
Mike Wilbon said it best in his column last year on how Rose's injuries piled up: "The leg bone's connected to the hip bone ... ." Well, it is. Everything is connected, and when Rose hurt his toe, it affected his hip, which affected his knee.
Bryant hasn't had much rest since last season. Even James, Bosh and D-Wade have taken a sabbatical towards the end of this season. Last week, Bryant boldly claimed he would have popped former Rutgers dodge ball coach Mike Rice in the mouth if he were getting beaming balls beamed at his dome. We believe him, but unfortunately, he was too close to the situation to recognize the perpetually grinning threat on his own bench.
How durable was Kobe this year? He led all NBA players 30 and over in minutes played...by 17%.Lapped the field... twitter.com/SeanGrandePBP/…— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) April 13, 2013
Bryant has the quickest trigger finger in the West, but we misidentified his fictional cowboy counterpart. He’s surly, Gran Torino Clint Eastwood with khaki pants hiked up to his shoulders, sacrificing himself for the cause in what was “supposed” to be his final on-screen performance.
Bryant’s implosion was foreshadowed. In the second half against Golden State, Bryant’s lower body began deteriorating like an unstable Jenga tower, after he injured his right and left knees.
Kobe is writhing in pain on the floor, clutching his left leg— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 13, 2013
Kobe told Lakers medical staff that he thought he hyper extended the knee. He is going to see how it feels and play through it— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 13, 2013
Kobe is barely able to walk after tweeking his right knee again after that Ezeli foul, but he's staying in the game— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 13, 2013
But don’t count Bryant out yet.
"I can feel it already. Players at this stage of their careers and then they pop their Achilles and they say they're never going to come back the same. I can hear it already,” Bryant said after the game while holding back tears. “It's pissing me off right now."
Bryant is also just 675 points away from eclipsing Jordan on the all-time scoring list. If Bryant does return to an NBA floor, D’Antoni shouldn’t be on the sidelines coaching him.
Isiah's career ended with a torn Achilles at age 32...can't think of anyone who had their career ended in that manner since— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) April 13, 2013
Damn man i feel bad for @kobebryant . If there's anybody and i mean anybody who can come back from that injury it would be him! Best wishes!— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 13, 2013
Never pictured Kobe going out like this. What a competitor either way— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) April 13, 2013
I can't believe there's ever been a more captivating quest for a No. 8 seed— Lee Jenkins (@SI_LeeJenkins) April 13, 2013
Kobe had 12 points in 9 minutes in the 4th quarter Friday before getting injured, helping turn a 5-pt deficit into a tied ballgame— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 13, 2013
Those two FTs with a torn Achilles by Kobe to keep it a tied game were his flu game. Forever part of his narrative— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 13, 2013